The APPG’s season of public events continued last week, as representatives from across the seafood sector gathered in Westminster to discuss recruitment and retention in seafood careers. The aim of the event was to address the industry’s concerns that too few young people are being recruited to sustain the workforce, despite improving conditions and career prospects.
Keen to build on the success of our first event, we publicised the meeting widely and invited people from a diverse range of backgrounds to attend. Plenty responded: industry professionals, fishmongers, educators and think tanks all arrived to mingle freely with the Parliamentarians present.
It was a busy day in Parliament, with important debates popping up at the last minute, and Melanie Onn MP, due to chair the event, was snatched away for the first half. Fortunately Alistair Carmichael, a Vice-Chair of the APPG and MP for Orkney and Shetland, graciously stepped in and introduced the event and the speakers. Melanie arrived later to steer the discussion that followed. As MP for Great Grimsby, she is renowned for championing the seafood processing industry, the backbone of her constituency. This personal connection coupled with her political expertise made her an ideal chair. Two more of the APPG’s Vice-Chairs, David Duguid MP and Martin Vickers MP, also joined to listen to the views expressed by attendees.
We invited three speakers to give quickfire presentations, each introducing an aspect of the sector and the challenges it faced. Simon Dwyer of the cluster group Seafood Grimsby & Humber began by talking about how career opportunities were often overlooked by young people. The Grimsby seafood cluster employs over 5,800 people, and although the traditional jobs on the factory floor retain their importance, jobs in evolving sectors like international trade, sustainability and innovation are increasing.
Rob Wing, who runs a successful fishmongering business in Cornwall alongside a range of other seafood-related positions, lent his perspective. He says that a shrinking labour pool is leading to wage inflation, putting small businesses at risk, even though career paths within small-scale establishments can be greatly rewarding.
CJ Jackson, Principal and Chief Executive of the Billingsgate Seafood School, rounded off the presentations by highlighting the integral role of education and training. She believes that seafood needs to be a bigger part of people’s lives from an early age: exposing kids to a wide range of seafood could lead them to consider a career in the sector later on.
Once the presentations were over, the floor opened for discussion. Given the many perspectives present, a lot of new ideas and innovative ways to approach the recruitment issue were introduced to the room. There was agreement that misconceptions continue to influence potential recruits: that careers in the seafood industry are unrewarding, dirty, poorly paid or have little capacity for career progression. Everybody present was adamant that these have little relevance to today’s industry. The need for education and exposure to opportunities was a key takeaway message: the role of schools, training programmes and the industry itself in making sure people knew about - and were enthused by - the opportunities on offer.
The digital world was also contributing. Through frequent updates via Twitter using #SeafoodCareers, we were sharing the issues and ideas raised with the wider community. Our speakers and other attendees were also engaged in the online discussion, furthering the event’s digital audience.
The main point of consensus was the need for everybody within the industry to work together. The meeting itself was acting as a catalyst for this: experts from different strands of the sector where talking, exchanging contacts and thinking about opportunities for collaboration. It’s a good sign of things to come, as the seafood sector considers working towards more ‘joined-up’ thinking between all the areas involved.
The Secretariat are now writing the meeting’s conclusions into a policy brief, which will be distributed to our Parliamentarian members and made publicly available. The meeting fulfilled its aims of bringing people from across the industry together; the brief will build on this by formalising all the areas of discussion, as a source of reference for attendees, MPs and anybody connected to the industry. We hope these outcomes will help build the holistic network that the industry desires.