South Africa

A career in food is likely a good choice for the future – this is how to prepare for one

future career in food

People will always need food, which is why a culinary career is a safe choice.

While some jobs will become redundant and new jobs will take their place, you can rest assured that there will always be jobs in the food and beverage market, although they might look a bit different.

South Africa’s unemployment rate at 32.9% is among the highest in the world and something must be done to create more jobs. The food and beverage manufacturing sector employs almost 190 000 people but Nokuthula Selamolela, CEO at FoodBev Manufacturing SETA, explains that this sector also faces internal and external pressures.

The food and beverage manufacturing sector turned over R185 billion during the third quarter of 2022 and it is one of the highest contributors to gross domestic product (GDP) in the manufacturing industry. It primarily consists of small companies (87%) and some large and medium well-known employers.

The sector employs almost 190 000 people and about 59% of them are male according to the 2022 Workplace Skills Plan. The FoodBev Manufacturing SETA promotes and incentivises skills development in this sector of the SA economy and one of its priorities must clearly be to make better progress with transformation, Selamolela says.

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Significant imbalances in labour market

“The gap between educational system supply and labour market demand leads to significant imbalances. If we do not address future skills needs the list of hard-to-fill jobs will continue to grow.”

“The FoodBev SETA is determined to identify where South Africa is lagging in our industry and where we need to place resources and attention to address these issues. By undertaking these priorities, the SETA is working to ensure that those in the food and beverage manufacturing sector can grow and progress to flourish and meet the future with confidence.”

She says the pressures on the sector include global competitiveness, health and nutrition, technological advancements, climate change and food safety. The most significant challenge is technological change. A rising trend, for example, is digital twin technology which is used to create a virtual replication of a factory facilitating more effective production, system testing and maintenance.

“These factors and others such as ongoing rolling blackouts, fuel price increases and skills shortages have forced businesses to change the way they operate. What is evident is that technological advancements mean that the SETA needs to reskill and upskill the workforce in the food and beverage manufacturing sector.”

This also creates an opportunity to prepare the youth for future jobs. “One of the ways we prepare for the future world of work is through the partnership with the Brics Business Council that supports two projects, namely the Brics Future Skills Challenge and The Atlas of Emerging jobs. Competing on international platforms like this benefits the South African industry, as it ensures exposure to global skills and processes which may not be available here.”

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Brics future skills challenge

In 2022 the South African team for the Brics Future Skills Challenge consisted of 240 applicants between the ages of 16 and 35 from 17 skills areas. Young people from Brics countries with skills in robotic process automation, mobile app development, data science, digital factory, cyber security and many other skills took part as individuals or teams in an online hackathon.

Participants are trained and exposed to real-world case studies where they solve problems in their specific skills area and design a solution with the support of experts. The digital twin team, for example, had to design and optimise a virtual factory using digital twin software.

The FoodBev Manufacturing SETA sponsored this year’s Brics Skills Challenge in a bid to get a better understanding of the future of the sector, as well as which challenges must be addressed and the necessary steps the SETA must take to build this future.

“The next step is to prioritise skills development by clarifying what kind of changes are needed to prepare our existing professions for the future and crucially, what this means for education and training.”

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Skills gap leads to imbalance in economy

Selamolela says the gap between educational system supply and labour market demand leads to significant imbalances in the economy. “We are preparing for the future of our sector via the Skills Technology Foresight workshop, which focuses on new professions for a career in food that did not or do not exist, as well as those that face significant change.”

This process allows the SETA to identify future skills needs in the context of technological innovation and modernisation, a process successfully used in countries such as Tunisia, Vietnam, Tanzania, Russia and Kazakhstan.

Participants build a shared vision of the sector’s future, considering technological, political and social changes. The first day of the workshop creates a future vision that helps them to understand what the future of the sector will look like and unpacks which challenges need to be addressed and what steps are needed to build this future.

On the second day, participants focus on skills to predict how the future will change existing professions and what it means for education and training.

After these two days, a report is prepared containing key findings of the workshop and recommendations for education and training processes.

This will build on the FoodBev Manufacturing SETA Sector Skills Plan which has already shown that the sector must address skills shortages, transform the sector, increase innovation, plug skills gaps, offer career guidance and support national priorities and plans.

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Top 10 jobs for career in food

Selamolela says the top 10 current hard-to-fill jobs in the food and beverage sector are:

  • Food and beverage factory workers
  • Millwrights
  • Finance managers
  • Butchers
  • Packaging manufacturing machine minders
  • Food and beverage technicians
  • Manufacturing operations managers
  • Commercial sales representatives
  • Production/operations supervisors (manufacturing)
  • Winemakers

She says if the sector does not address future skills needs, the list of hard-to-fill jobs will continue to grow.