Friday, August 21, 2015

The start of a journey

Paul McLaughlin, BESA Chief Executive

Being asked to write a blog on your first day in not only a new role but a new industry is a somewhat daunting prospect.

The very able staff at B&ES drafted a thoughtful, accurate and well-researched piece for me to sign that would make an immediate impression on members and staff who could not fail to note the depth of knowledge and insight that this newcomer has already absorbed.

But I thought I should start my blog as I mean it to continue – a personal view on my journey with B&ES and the industry.  As my understanding of the sector grows, I hope this blog becomes a place where I can comment on current issues, air my own views on a range of topics and reflect on what I have seen, heard and experienced.

Although my education and early career were in engineering (following a BEng degree, I became an engineering graduate trainee with Mars Confectionery), my choice of employer actually sent me down a career path in the food and drink industry. My training as an engineer helped me cross the boundaries from office staff and the factory workers and, in positions of increasing responsibility, I always tried to perform that function of a bridge between teams, departments, divisions and organisations.

I was chief executive of Scotland Food & Drink, where I led the development of an industry-wide strategy for growth and set in motion projects involving unprecedented levels of collaboration across industry sectors, organisations and companies. 

Key issues for that sector were innovation, reputation, sustainability and skills and training – in particular, higher-level skills for the new digital age of manufacturing.  The food industry also struggles to attract the best and brightest talent from schools, colleges and university.  Most students’ views of the food industry involve standing on a production line gutting fish or some such task, and very few can see the industry for the wide range and interesting choice of careers that are available.

Already in my work with B&ES, I can see parallels with the food sector.  Terms like skill shortages, collaboration, reputation and innovation all seem common in the conversations I have had so far.  But, importantly, so are words like opportunity, growth, expansion and excitement.  There is a real buzz of an industry growing post-recession – hungry for growth and looking to find ways to fulfil its potential.

The people I have met so far, be they B&ES members or colleagues, have all struck me as passionate, dedicated and committed to the Association and the industry – all looking forwards to a period of growth, development and change.

So, how do I want to draw this first blog post to a conclusion? I have a sense that I am joining the industry during a challenging period, but it is a healthy challenge because we are tackling issues that will help us keep pace with a surging market – not an industry going backwards. I guess this also means we are better placed to fight for better and fairer commercial terms…but that’s another story for another blog.

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