Industry bosses in 'skills gap' warning as national apprenticeship week starts
The food and drink industry is facing an "image crisis" which could worsen the skills gap firms are facing, it has been warned.
At the start of national apprenticeship week, the sector said it was being "ignored" by young people starting off in a career despite its status in the economy.
The industry was facing a generational "time-bomb", with more than a third of its 400,000 strong workforce due to retire by 2020, including a large number of managers and engineers.
Justine Fosh, chief executive of the National Skills Academy for Food and Drink, said: "Sadly, there remain many misconceptions about the variety of available roles in food and drink and a lack of information about the industry's career progression opportunities.
"Young people have an outdated image of the industry, but we have good jobs - we simply need the talent.
"At best we are ignored, at worst we are not considered to be an industry of choice.
"The 2020 deadline we face is a very real one, and if we don't encourage the next generation into our industry, the skills gap in food and drink could have a very real impact on the economy."
The boss of Network Rail said he wanted to challenge the "stigma" associated with apprenticeships.
Chief executive Mark Carne called on teachers, parents and employers to do more to educate more young people about the benefits they can offer.
"Our graduated apprentices are living proof that there should be no stigma associated with apprenticeships, and that with the right attitude and work ethic, you can reap the rewards alongside those who have chosen a university route," he said.
A study by Prudential showed "widespread misconceptions" about apprentice pay and other benefits among school-leavers.
A survey of over 600 teenagers showed that most under-estimated pay rates, while 4% even thought they would have to work for free if they took up an apprenticeship.
Research by the Young Women's Trust found that women were paid less than men in an apprenticeship and were less likely to get a decent job.
The charity said women were still "woefully under-represented" in male dominated sectors such as engineering and construction.
British Gas said in a separate report that millions of discontented workers could be limiting their options of a new career by assuming that apprenticeships were just for school-leavers.
The company said almost a third of its apprentices were over the age of 30.
A Business Department spokesman said: "It is great to see more and more young people are choosing apprenticeships as a fast-track to a successful career.
"We have been working hard to quash misconceptions including protecting the term apprenticeship so they have the same status as degrees."
A record number of manufacturers are looking to recruit apprentices this year, according to a new survey by EEF, the manufacturers' organisation.
Four out of five firms plan to recruit a manufacturing and engineering apprentice, while 45% intend to take in an apprentice for other roles, such as IT, marketing and management.