Skills Dashboard


Rural Economy

Rural Economy - supply and demand issues

Report Segment: Skills Nuances

Nuances of Supply & Demand

The food sector highlights the contradictions evident in attempting to match the supply and demand of skills in any one sector. Whilst there are many highly skilled jobs in food processing one cannot avoid the 48% of low skilled labour required for the industry to deliver its produce to the supermarkets, fast food chains and other outlets on a daily basis. What has at times been called a low skills equilibrium (DTI 2003) reveals a simple fact: some of the sector needs people to do work on production lines carrying out simple and repetitive tasks – and if the supply is insufficient in East Anglia, there is plenty of labour (especially from the newly acceded EU countries) to fill the vacancies for low skills work.

Given the importance of this issue, and its occasional crude politicisation, it is worth exploring the low skills equilibrium (LSQe) in a little more detail. Before then though, it is important to state that the forgoing analysis does not apply to the whole of the food processing sector. There are many examples – some described in this report - which show that what may be statistically categorised as low skilled labour is in fact highly trained labour multi-tasking in a varied and complex computerised environment. Qualifications may not be evident (except for the mandatory food safety and health and safety certificates), but the degree of learning on the job required to perform to company standards can be much more than low skill. It is interesting to note that these well trained people don’t count in the UK statistics on skills levels – suggesting that we may be a more skilled (though not certificated) workforce than appears in UKCES data.