Is Brexit creating talent Shortages in Scotland’s Food and Drink Sector?

In 2017, talent shortage was an area highlighted as one of the less obvious impacts of the 2016 Brexit vote and the decision to leave the EU. As we examine the first quarter of 2021, we discuss whether or not we now starting to see the early impacts of the UK/EU divorce on the employment market in the Food & Drink sector.

The Food and Drink Manufacturing sector is a critical area of Scotland’s manufacturing workforce and accounts for a measurably large proportion of our manufacturing exports. Scotland has 18,850 food and drink businesses, which employ around 115,400 people. Scotch whisky and the production of other spirit drinks, alongside Scottish farmed salmon production, are key focal points of growth for Scotland and employment requirements in these areas, even throughout the pandemic, have remained resiliently high.

As we transition into our first few months Post-Brexit, we have been in discussions with some of the leaders in our Scottish Drinks client portfolio to look at the early signs of predicted challenges to EU workers seeking employment in this sector. With the Food and Drink sector’s employment figures sitting at 4.7% of the Scottish workforce, it comes as no surprise that hiring plans are high on the agenda, alongside EU import costs, and managing new trading agreements.

As it stands, many Scottish businesses in the fast-moving consumer goods sector have been taking a very measured approach. Some of the larger multinational Food and Drinks employers are finding it easier to manage the changes as they have the resources to explore their options, and feel they have a more streamlined immigration process. Early observations suggest that that this is having a positive impact for sourcing highly skilled leaders from the EU due to the sponsorship process also being somewhat quicker.

This can be compared to smaller businesses which might have previously relied heavily on talent from the EU, and now must consider the sponsorship process for the first time. The cost of sponsorship can be expensive, particularly if you are recruiting for a role which is below managerial level. With fewer options available for smaller, stand-alone Food and Drinks companies and the prospect of facilitating the cost of sponsorship of blue-collar workers, there is a fear that they will experience a growing gap for talent in critical parts of their businesses.

Despite these changes, our Scottish Food and Drinks community remains optimistic about planning and managing their hiring requirements. International recruitment to the UK is still buoyant despite the pandemic and the Brexit transition period. Hiring cost charges faced by smaller businesses have been reduced according to turnover and there has been an uplift in appetite to promote organically.


Jacqui Paterson is an Executive Search specialist with Livingston James.  Jacqui specialises in Board level/C suite appointments within the Food and Drink Sector in Scotland. With over 20 years’ experience in the industry, Jacqui has worked in partnership with organisations of all sizes, from SMEs to some of the largest food and drinks brands, providing industry support and leadership sourcing solutions. Contact her at [email protected] 

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