‘An investment in knowledge pays the best interest’: Calls for improved learning within industry to keep pace with ‘seismic’ advances

Europe’s food industry has embraced innovation when it comes to production and distribution. But it lags behind when it comes to the way that it invests in and recognises the ongoing education of its colleagues. So believes EIT Food, the food arm of the EU-funded European Institute of Innovation & Technology.

It recently launched a European-wide recognition of formal and informal learning – the EIT Food Professional Education Framework – that has so far, the buy in of major food industry partners including Pepsico.

In a world of rapid environmental change, resource depletion, economic instability and social inequality, EIT believes Continuing Professional Development (CPD) is a big issue for the agrifood sector and food professionals. EIT Food’s aim therefore is to develop a skilled, innovative workforce that can tackle tough challenges ahead to create a more sustainable food system through innovation and entrepreneurship.

The next generation of human intellectual capital will be able to face these changes and find solutions to incumbent challenges only if it is equipped with advanced skills and competences, explained Professional Development Lead at EIT Food, Barbara Mason.

Recognising lifelong learning in our food sector

“The technological and cultural advances in our food system are so significant that I don’t think most of the public would know how to put food on our tables if they were transported back to 100 years ago,”​ she said. We can, for example, buy fresh fruit, vegetables, meat and cheese sourced from around the world at any time of the day. Or order groceries to be delivered to our doors. Neither are these luxuries enjoyed only by the uber wealthy, but a normal part of modern living.

“The shift to a system of on-time availability of food and hugely beneficial innovation in how our food is created and sold is profound,”​ revealed Mason, “and programmes like EIT Food are exploiting this paradigm shift to enable us to have food that is healthier and better for the environment too.”

But while the food industry has embraced innovation when it comes to production and distribution “we lag behind when it comes to the way that we invest in and recognise the ongoing education of our practitioners,”​ she observed.

“We know that the food industry is unique in bringing together so many different people and organisations together from around the world. Our industry relies on a shared commitment to meeting one of the fundamental needs of our world, but when it comes to recognising the commitment to ongoing learning and development we lack any shared understanding or acknowledgement.”

Professional development for a sustainable food system

It’s for this reason that EIT Food unveiled a new framework to formally recognise and accredit the lifelong learning that is taking place across the food industry.

The EIT Food Professional Education Framework is designed to bring together the expertise from a consortium of some of the biggest names in agrifood and universities. It aims to allow agrifood industry professionals to demonstrate the value of vocational learning, we were told.

Those who follow the ‘robust framework’ will be able to show their professional development through independently assessed certification, overseen by the world leader in learner certification, The Fraunhofer Institute, in Germany.

The scheme aims to offer clear vocational and professional pathways for employees, entrepreneurs and job seekers to acquire the relevant skills and knowledge to aid their careers as innovators and entrepreneurs in the agrifood sector.

Further, the EIT Food competency framework gives employers the tools to recruit top talent, enhance the available skill set of the workforce, and aid staff retention.

“I have spoken to many people from other industries who cannot get their heads around the demands of the food industry,”​ continued Mason. “We know that making time for lifelong learning is extremely difficult, and yet we also know that learning and development is happening all the time by necessity for food producers, manufacturers and distributors. However, this learning is not currently being recognised, shared and valued enough.

“Ultimately, the framework is a tool to enable practitioners in the food industry to have their hard work in developing themselves recognised for the investment that it is. To quote Benjamin Franklin: ‘An investment in knowledge pays the best interest’.”

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