Food industry needs young talent, but misconceptions pose a challenge

May 5, 201610:46 am720 views

SINGAPORE — It used to take a five-man team to roast up to 80 ducks a day at Shiro Corporation, a food manufacturer and supplier of premium seafood and meat products. Today, with an automated oven, the company produces 1,000 roasted ducks a day with the same team, cutting down the burden on its workers and improving productivity.

Such developments may make it seem like the food industry has no great need for workers, but the truth is that the manufacturers are seeking to attract young talent to the industry.

The main stumbling block? The public generally has a poor perception of jobs in the food sector, often seeing it as being labour intensive.

So, in comes the SG Food Makers initiative.

For a start, the Singapore Food Manufacturers’ Association (SFMA), which has about 360 members, commissioned a nation-wide survey to try to understand the common perceptions and misconceptions about the sector here.

By the end of last year, it had polled 800 people, comprising fresh graduates and students in food-manufacturing-related courses, parents of current and recently graduated tertiary students, as well as mid-career PMETs (professionals, managers, executives and technicians).

The results confirmed the association’s suspicion: Just about three out of every 20 Singaporeans would consider a career in food manufacturing, and some 60 per cent of the survey respondents perceived the food manufacturing industry as labour intensive.

The SFMA is keen to debunk these misconceptions. Its president, Mr Thomas Pek, said at a media briefing yesterday: “Food manufacturing is definitely not a sunset industry. It is a very innovative and exciting industry, and we hope to attract more young people and students.”

From research and development in food science and technology to hiring cooks and kitchen helpers, newcomers are highly sought after in this industry to keep up with the ever-changing times.

Food manufacturers such as Shiro are finding ways to continually make new innovations in food trends and technologies, calling for more to join the workforce.

Dr Christine Lee, who is the senior research and development manager at Shiro, said: “The (automated) technology helps to maintain (food) quality, and the amount of work handled by the chefs or kitchen helpers is reduced. My chefs won’t need to wake up so early in the morning … they can finish work early, and go back and rest.”

Dr Lee sees newcomers to the industry as pivotal in generating new innovations and responding to dynamic changes in the environment, citing new food trends such as salted egg-yolk croissants and even durian wine as examples.

Mr Jimmy Soh, deputy president of SFMA, sees automation as the way forward, especially in replacing traditional and laborious methods of food preparation: “Automation is being practised across the industry today, because after all, we are facing an acute labour shortage in Singapore, and it is the natural way out for us to improve our productivity.”

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