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Fish processing in Scotland

Dr Pamela M Clayton
Department of Adult and Continuing Education
University of Glasgow

August 2003

Because of the close similarity of the words ‘employers’ and ‘employees’, the more colloquial terms
‘bosses’ and ‘workers’ when referring to respondents are used throughout this report.
Where answers were to be ranked in order of agreement, 5 was the highest score and 1 the lowest.
Hence scores of 3 and above indicate general agreement, scores of 2 and below general disagreement.
Reference to the overall survey means that carried out in the agro-food sector in each of the Czech
Republic, France, Germany, Greece, Italy, Luxembourg and the United Kingdom.

On the face of it, the agro-food sector in the United Kingdom is of small importance since it accounts
for under 2 per cent of all employees. In the manufacturing sector as a whole, however, 9 per cent are
engaged in food manufacturing and the sector generates a great deal of tertiary sector employment, for
example, in the wholesale, retail and transport sectors. Above all, it is of importance because it
supplies our most important basic need, food, which at the same time carries great health risks. Thus,
the sector is interesting in terms of the skills and knowledge, and hence training, needed by both
employees and employers.
There are three kinds of market driving the agro-food sector:
• mass markets for relatively cheap and widely accessible products, giving rise to high-tech
mass production methods;
• high-volume markets for more expensive, exclusive products where demand may be based on
season, fashion and so on, giving rise to batch production for limited runs, using both high-
tech machinery and manual skills;
• niche markets, both domestic and export, for high-value, hand-crafted products.
There are, correspondingly, different size firms in the sector. About three-quarters of all firms are
small, with between one and nineteen employees. Only 2 per cent have five hundred or more
The market is highly competitive, with different brands vying for market share, and at the same time
reliant on only four to five large customers in the form of the supermarkets, which supply over three-
quarters of the food bought by domestic consumers. On the one hand, therefore, there are pressures on
profit margins, while on the other hand training is essential in order to meet all the legal requirements
to ensure health and safety, not only for employees but for consumers. For the small firms which
dominate the sector, therefore, there is a tension between maintaining profit margins (some of which
is necessary for further capital investment in order to meet competitive pressures and new legislative
requirements concerning health and safety) and investment in human resources, including the training
of new recruits and ongoing training of both existing employees and owner-managers.
The sub-sector chosen for the Tremplin project was fish and shellfish processing. Scotland was
chosen as a geographical region producing high quality fish products such as smoked salmon, kippers,
oysters and langoustines in small firms, as well as having large fish processing factories. In 2000,
British demersal, pelagic and shellfish vessels landed a total of 307,700 tonnes into Scotland,
compared with only 156,900 tonnes into the rest of the United Kingdom. Foreign vessels landed
52,400 tonnes into Scotland compared with 9,200 tonnes into the rest of the United Kingdom.
Scotland is, therefore, an important location for the processing of fish and shellfish. It is also
important for fish farming, which has seen a great increase in recent times. For example, 129,000
tonnes of farmed salmon were produced in 2000 compared with only 32,400 tonnes in 1990; the
production of farmed mussels has risen from 500 to 2,000 tonnes over the same period (Scottish
Fisheries Statistics, 2000).

There has been a concerted campaign by bodies such as the Food Standards Agency to persuade
people to eat more fish, particularly oily fish (http://www.food.gov.uk). Seafood in general is a
valuable source of proteins, vitamins and minerals. At the same time, however, seafood that is
improperly stored, handled or cooked carries dangers in the form of bacteria and viruses, such as the
Vibrio bacterium which is the greatest source of reported food-borne illness, the Norwalk virus (found
in raw oysters) and hepatitis A, found in raw or partially cooked shellfish. These pose health risks to
all but particularly to pregnant women, children and older people and to those with existing health
problems. Health and safety issues are, therefore, of major concern. As highly perishable products,
fish and shellfish must be dealt with, from catching or farming, through processing, packaging and
storing, to delivery, in the most rapid and hygienic way possible.
The implications for training are clear: every employee who has any contact with the product must be
trained to rigorous standards to ensure that all health risks are eliminated; quality management is key;
and managers have to be familiar with all of the legislative requirements concerning food standards.
Skill gaps need to be kept to the minimum through training, not only of new employees but of all
employees where legislation changes or new products are manufactured. Continual updating of skills
is, therefore, a fact of life in the seafood industry. Case study A, the North Atlantic Fisheries College,
will describe the role of training in the Shetland seafood industry.
Although there has been a slow decline in domestic demand for fish, prices have risen and more is
spent on fish than previously (though, paradoxically, demand for fish is lower in Scotland than
elsewhere in the United Kingdom). There are jobs for workers in the sector, but seafood processing is
an odoriferous task and although the Scottish industry offers good rates of pay, it is difficult to recruit
people, with or without the existing skills of handling, filleting and processing fish and shellfish. In
other words, the sector appears to have an image problem. The situation is so serious in Shetland that
the Shetland Fish Processors’ Association (SFPA) is applying for work permits for immigrant
The original intention was to focus on the industry in Shetland. According to the SFPA website:
“Small fish processors are vital to the wealth of the islands’ local economy. They provide the
innovation and specialism that is crucial for the development of the industry as a whole” (Ruth
Henderson, chief executive of SFPA).
Great efforts are made to ensure that the fish which goes to the Shetland processing units is of high
quality. All the vessels in the Shetland fishing fleet are owned and operated by their crew and their
livelihood depends on them meeting the stringent standards laid down by the Scottish Seafood Project
code of practice, which is enforced by the two chilled fresh fish markets in Shetland (they are among
the most modern in Europe), and constantly monitored since 1985 by an independent quality control
company, the Shetland Seafood Quality Control (SSQC) company. This not only monitors the quality
and temperature of fish brought to market, but also gives guidelines for the handling of all seafood
products in Shetland and carried out random spot checks of fishing boats, fish farms, fish processors
and fish transportation companies.
Not only is Shetland important for the catching and export of wild fish, it has also been involved in
salmon farming for the last fifteen years and great pride is taken in its quality. The SSQC traces all
salmon products from hatchery to the final customer and carries out random testing. Mussels, halibut
and other fish and shellfish are also cultivated for the table. Training and development is carried out
by the Fisheries College.
As far as the Tremplin survey is concerned, despite the great majority of firms contacted by telephone
(that is, all nineteen firms in the Shetland Fish Processors’ Association) agreeing to take part, in the
event few actually returned questionnaires. So the survey was extended to all twenty-four firms who
are members of fish and shellfish processing associations affiliated to the Sea Fish Industry Authority
in Scotland. This generated a few returns but not nearly enough. The reasons for this require
exploration, but it is probable that the length of the questionnaire, the great quantity of surveys
already carried out, the generally low educational level of the workforce and the pressure of work,
especially in very small firms, deterred firms and/or their workers from taking part.
Training is essential at all levels from managers to cleaners, and concerns not only the hygienic

handling and correct chilling and storage of fish and shellfish, but also testing for contaminants,
allowable additives and preservatives, quality control, traceability, packaging, classifying, labelling,
transportation; the maintenance and cleaning of equipment used in their processing, the cleaning of
premises, the discharge of effluent, and factory design and layout. In addition, key skills such as team-
work and problem-solving may require training. SMEs have particular difficulty keeping abreast of
food safety and related legislation, and a safety risk assessment tool used by the food industry to
control the safety and quality of foods will become mandatory for all food premises from 2004.

Given the disappointingly small number of returns, it is not possible to make generalisations, and the
following analysis applies only to the firms who did participate.
It can be stated, however, that in the United Kingdom agro-food sector in general, almost half (45 per
cent) of employees hold operative and elementary jobs, with a further 15 per cent in skilled trades, 11
per cent in managerial positions and 12 per cent in professional and associate professional/technical
jobs. Overall, 19 per cent of employees in the sector have no qualifications, particularly at the trade,
operative and elementary levels. Almost all (98 per cent) of managers, however, have some level of
qualification (Dench et al. 2000, p. 10). There is no reason to suggest that the Scottish fish processing
industry as a whole varies greatly from this.
Nine firms were represented, two very large (with five and thirteen thousand employees respectively,
the latter a multi-national corporation) and the rest SMEs, ranging from forty to 120 employees. All
were in rural areas. In the whole agro-food survey, however, just over half had a rural location (see
European Survey, Annex D, Table D4).
Nine people designated ‘bosses’, representing seven firms, participated in the survey. Four were
managers of local branches, two were human resource managers, and three worked in management
support roles, including one production line supervisor. In other words, no firm owners or managing
directors are represented but rather, people in managerial positions who chose to answer as bosses
rather than as employees. In the overall agro-food survey, however, one-third of the bosses
responding were owners.
On average, the Scottish bosses had spent 6.2 years in their present job (range, four to ten years), 9.3
years in their present firm (range, five to twenty-one years) and 10.1 years in the industry (range, five
to twenty-one years). This last average is significantly lower than the average for the European
sample as a whole The average number of people managed in Scotland was thirty-one (range, one to
seventy-two), similar to the whole agro-food sample (see European Survey, Annex D, Table D1).
Of the twenty-five designated ‘workers’, from eight firms, 40 per cent were male, 60 per cent female
(similar to the whole agro-food sample). The biggest number, however, 44 per cent (eleven persons),
were aged between thirty-five and forty-four, compared with the agro-food sample, which has a lower
age profile. Of the rest, four were under twenty-five, seven were between twenty-five and thirty-four,
two between forty-five and fifty-four and only one was fifty-five or more. No persons beyond
retirement age1 were represented. (See also European Survey, Annex D, Table D2.)
No professionals and only two unskilled manual workers took part. Of the rest, six were
clerical/administrative workers, eight were on the production line, five were skilled craft workers,
three were in managerial positions and one a Scottish Vocational Qualifications (SVQ) trainer. The
proportion of clerical/administrative workers in the sample, compared with the lower number in the
European survey, is likely to reflect the lower level of education and therefore resistance to surveys of
the general workforce in the fish-processing industry.
On average, the workers had been in their current position for 5.2 years (with a range of one to

In the United Kingdom, retirement age is currently 60 for women and 65 for men, though this disparity is due
to disappear.

eleven), in their current firm for 6.5 years (with a range of one to eleven) and in the industry for 8.6
years (with a range of two to twenty-seven). These figures are generally below the European survey
average and given the average age of the sample may reflect a relatively high degree of turnover in an
industry which, for reasons stated in the introduction, finds it hard to recruit and retain workers (see
European Survey, Annex D, Table D3).
The average number of people managed was just under eight. This figure is distorted by four of the
workers managing respectively twenty, forty, forty-eight and seventy people. Fourteen of the workers
did not have any managerial responsibility.


3.1 Recruitment
The data here consists of responses to questions, put to both bosses and workers, on workers’ reasons
for entering the industry; employee attitudes towards a selection of industries and occupations; boss
and employee assessments of the quality of the jobs provided by their firms; and methods of
recruitment bosses found useful compared with workers’ sources of information.

3.1.1 Reasons for entering industry

Bosses were asked to indicate their opinion of the importance, on a scale of 1 to 5, to their workers of
a number of factors which may have influenced their decision to enter the industry in the first place.
Workers were asked to state which factors had in fact influenced them. The factors suggested in the
questionnaire were: good pay, secure employment, chance to work with people, opportunities for
training, seemed interesting, work environment, good career prospects, fringe benefits (such as
company pension, canteen, crèche, car), well-respected job, hours of work, good appraisal/guidance
system, wanted a change, couldn’t get anything else, wanted to live in this town/area and always
wanted to do it (table 1).
Table 1 Assessment of factors in recruitment to the industry by workers and bosses
Workers Bosses
Recruitment factors Score Rank order Score Rank order
Good pay 3.8 1= 4.2 2
Secure employment 3.8 1= 4.4 1
Seemed interesting 3.5 3 2.9 7=
Work environment 3.4 4 2.7 12=
Chance to work with people 3.3 5 3.0 5=
Opportunities for training 3.2 6 3.2 4
Wanted to live in this town/area 3.0 7 2.9 7=
Fringe benefits 2.8 8 2.8 11
Well-respected job 2.7 9= 2.6 14
The hours of work 2.7 9= 3.0 5=
Good career prospects 2.6 11= 2.7 12=
Good appraisal/guidance system 2.6 11= 2.9 7=
Wanted a change 2.4 13= 2.9 7=
Couldn't get anything else 2.4 13= 3.4 3
Always wanted to do it 2.0 15 2.0 15
N 25 8

The bosses put ‘good pay’ (4.2) and ‘secure employment’ (4.4) as the most important factors.
Workers gave lower ratings than bosses but were broadly in agreement that ‘good pay’ and ‘job
security’ (both 3.8) were the most important factors. The one both bosses and workers thought least
important was ‘always wanted to do it’ (2.0).

In the agro-food survey as a whole, the factors rated highest by bosses were ‘secure employment’
(4.1) followed by ‘work environment’ (3.4), while those rated least important were ‘fringe benefits’
(2.3) and ‘wanted a change’ (2.6) (see European Report, Annex A, Table A2). Workers overall, too,
ranked ‘secure employment’ top (3.9), above ‘good pay’, ‘seemed interesting’ and ‘work
environment’ (3.7) (European Survey, Annex B, Table B6).
When comparing the Scottish rankings by each group, however, some divergences as well as
similarities appear.
Both bosses and workers gave similar or even identical rankings to ‘chance to work with people’ (5),
‘wanted to live in this town/area’ (6 and 7 respectively) and ‘good career prospects’ (a low 11).
There were differences in the rankings of 3 for ‘seemed interesting’, which was workers’ third most
popular reason for entering the industry; of 4 for ‘well-respected job’ (less favoured by bosses) and
‘the hours of work’ (which bosses rated more highly); of 5 for ‘good appraisal/guidance system’ (of
lower importance to workers); of 7 for ‘work environment’ (much more important for workers) and
‘wanted a change’ (denied by most workers); and 10 for ‘couldn’t get anything else’, which was near
the bottom of the workers’ ranking but near the top of bosses’.

3.1.2 Employee perceptions of certain industries and occupations

Workers were asked to give their impressions of a range of industries and occupations, in order to test
the perception that some sectors and jobs suffer from a poor image which hinders recruitment (tables
2 and 3).
First they were asked to give their impressions, from very favourable to very unfavourable, of a range
of industries.
Table 2 Workers’ perceptions of industries
Industry Average score out of 5 Ranking
Engineering 3.9 1
Agriculture 3.8 2=
Health care 3.8 2=
Food processing 3.8 2=
Information technology 3.8 2=
Business 3.7 6
Banking 3.5 7
Hotels and catering 3.4 8
Tourism 3.4 8
Insurance 3.3 10
Construction/building 3.2 11
Agro-tourism 3.2 11
N 25

The top ranked choice of industry, with an average of 3.9 out of 5, was engineering, followed by
agriculture, health care, food processing and information technology (equal second with an average of
In view of the perception that both engineering and food processing suffer from a poor image, this is
unexpected. The popularity of engineering may be accounted for by Scotland’s impressive past record
in this industry; but the high ranking given to food processing needs to be seen in the context of table
3, where jobs are ranked. Industries were perhaps ranked in terms of perceived usefulness rather than
of generating desirable employment.
The overall results for the agro-food sector were largely quite different, with food processing, tourism
and IT equal first with 3.7, followed by engineering, business and hotels and catering with 3.5. In both
cases, however, food-processing, their own industry, was well regarded (see European Survey, Annex
B, Table B1).

Next, they were asked to rank occupations in terms of whether they were very good jobs, very bad
jobs or somewhere in the middle of that range (table 3).
Table 3 Workers’ perceptions of occupations
Occupations Score out of 5 Ranking
Doctor 4.6 1
Lawyer 4.3 2
Manager 4.2 3=
Computer programmer 4.2 3=
Teacher 4.1 5=
Electrical engineer 4.1 5=
Nurse 4.1 5=
Electrician 4.0 8=
Police officer 4.0 8=
Office worker 3.6 10
Bank clerk 3.5 11=
Butcher 3.5 11=
Baker 3.4 13=
Farmer 3.4 13=
Fisheries worker 3.3 15=
Factory worker 3.3 15=
Dairy worker 3.2 17
Hotel worker 3.0 18
N 25

Despite engineering coming top in the industry ranking, electrical engineers and electricians rank fifth
and eighth as occupations. In another popular industry, health care, doctors rank above nurses,
although public sympathy is probably greater for nurses than for doctors; and the occupations
associated with food-processing, butcher, baker, farmer, fisheries worker, factory worker and dairy
worker are at the bottom of the list, except for hotel worker. It seems probable that perceived levels of
pay inform these rankings.
Overall, too, the occupation of doctor was ranked first (4.2), followed by manager and computer
programmer (3.9), lawyer (3.8) and teacher and electrical engineer (3.7). Bottom of the list came
fisheries worker (2.9), below factory worker, farmer and dairy worker (3.2) (European Survey, Annex
B, Table B2).

3.1.3 Ratings of own firms and jobs

Bosses were asked to rate their firms in terms of whether they provided ‘very good jobs’, ‘quite good
jobs’, ‘jobs that are neither good nor bad’, ‘quite poor jobs’ or ‘bad jobs’ and workers were asked to
assess their own jobs in similar terms. Seven out of the nine bosses stated that their firms provided
‘quite good jobs’, plus one claiming ‘very good jobs’ and one stating that the jobs were neither good
nor bad. Workers were rather more enthusiastic, with eleven stating they had very good jobs, twelve
quite good jobs and only one neither good nor bad.
The bosses in the overall agro-food survey were slightly more likely to see the jobs provided by their
firm as ‘neither good nor bad’ (20.5 per cent) but the majority, as in the Scottish survey, were fairly
positive about their firms, with 22.7 per cent feeling that it provided ‘very good jobs’ and 54.7 per
cent claiming that they provided ‘quite good jobs’ (see European Survey, Annex A, Table A4). Agro-
food workers in general were much more likely than the Scottish workers to see their jobs as ‘quite
good’ rather than ‘very good’, but similarly there was very little dissatisfaction (European Survey,
Annex B, Table B8).
Bosses and workers were then asked to assess their firms in terms of pay, security of employment,
opportunities to work with people, opportunities for training, interesting work, work environment,

career prospects, fringe benefits, respected job, hours of work and good appraisal/guidance system
(that is, most of the factors referred to under reasons for workers to enter the industry) (table 4).
Table 4 Bosses’ and workers’ assessment of aspects of the job
Bosses Workers
Aspects of job Score Rank Score Rank
Opportunities to work with people 4.2 1 4.2 1=
Security 4.1 2 4.2 1=
Opportunities for training 3.9 3 4.1 3
Pay 3.6 4= 3.7 7
Appraisal/guidance system 3.6 4= 3.3 9
Work environment 3.4 6 3.8 5=
Interesting work 3.2 7= 3.9 4
Career prospects 3.2 7= 3.2 10
The hours of work 3.1 9 3.4 8
Respected job 3.0 10 3.8 5=
Fringe benefits 2.9 11 2.8 11
N 9 25

In terms of ranking, both groups said the best aspects of the job were ‘opportunities to work with
people’, ‘security’ and ‘opportunities for training’, and both put ‘career prospects’, ‘the hours of
work’ and ‘fringe benefits’ to the bottom. Pay was less important according to workers than to bosses.
In the agro-food survey as a whole, bosses thought security of employment and opportunities to work
with people were the best aspects of jobs in their firms, and fringe benefits and career prospects the
worst. The main difference is that the Scottish bosses were less likely to see the work as ‘interesting’
and more likely to cite ‘opportunities for training’ as a positive factor (see European Survey, Annex
A, Table A5).
Agro-food workers in general rated most highly ‘opportunities to work with people’ (3.9), interesting
work and work environment (3.8) and job security (3.7), with fringe benefits and career prospects at
the bottom, which is broadly similar to the Scottish results (European Survey, Annex B, Table B9).
The notable difference is the Scottish emphasis on training opportunities, no doubt because training
was much more a feature of the Scottish firms than in the overall European sample.
There are some notable disparities between Scottish bosses’ and workers’ scores. Workers were more
likely than bosses to see their jobs as interesting and respected and carried out in a good work
environment. They saw their hours of work and opportunities for training in a slightly better light than
did bosses, but were less satisfied with the appraisal/guidance system.
Despite, then, the general low opinion of jobs in their industry, the majority of workers were quite
satisfied with their own firms and rated them more highly than did the bosses. This has implications
for recruitment, as the next section will show.

3.2 Methods of recruitment

Bosses were asked what were the most effective recruitment methods for their firm, while workers
were asked who or what helped them to find out about jobs in this type of work. The questions are
rather different, as workers were answering on the basis of their entry to the industry rather than to the
firm, but the contrast in the answers is nevertheless striking. The scores relate to the percentages of
respondents who chose each category as one of their recruitment methods or sources of information
(table 5).

Table 5 Bosses’ recruitment methods and workers’ sources of information
Recruitment method/source of information Bosses Workers
Advertisements in the general press 87.5 20.8
The unemployment service 87.5 25.0
Word of mouth 87.5 54.2
Advice from friends 50.0 25.0
Advice from current or past employees 37.5 45.8
Private employment agencies 12.5 4.2
Advice from family 12.5 29.2
Professional/industry publications .0 4.2
The Internet .0 12.5
Advice from teachers .0 12.5
Talks in schools .0 4.2
Stands at trade/career fairs .0 .0
N 8 24

Professional/industry publications, private employment agencies, talks in schools and stands at

trade/career fairs were used by few or no bosses or workers. The Internet and advice from teachers
were mentioned by a small number of workers but not by bosses. One boss added that he used
advertisements in local shops to attract recruits. There are, however, notable differences between the
two groups. Considering the responses by workers, bosses appear greatly to over-value the usefulness
of advertisements in the general press and the unemployment service; to place more credence in word
of mouth (although this was the greatest single source of information noted by workers); and to under-
value advice from current or past employees and from the family. Given that the second biggest
category for workers was advice from other employees, it appears that a firm offering satisfactory
conditions should have fewer recruiting problems overall than one with dissatisfied employees.
The overall agro-food survey shows some differences from the Scottish one. Bosses in the European
agro-food sector gave top rating to ‘word of mouth’ (61.7 per cent of bosses responding), closely
followed by ‘advertisements in the general press’ (59.4 per cent), ‘advice from friends’ (55.6 per cent)
and ‘advice from current employees’ (49.6 per cent) as the most common methods of recruitment (see
European Survey, Annex A, Table A3). Scottish bosses, therefore, relied far more on formal methods
of recruitment, including the state employment service, although still recognising the importance of
informal channels; whereas workers in Scotland, in prioritising informal methods, were closer to
bosses in Europe as a whole than to their own.
Agro-food workers in general were more likely to have got their information through advertisements
in the general press and advice from friends, less by word of mouth and about the same from someone
they knew in the job and their families (European Survey, Annex B, Table B7).

3.3 Problem areas in recruitment

All the firms in Scotland stated that they had problems with recruitment, whereas only 67.6 per cent
of bosses in the overall agro-food survey reported such difficulties (see European Survey Annex A,
Table A6). Nearly all the Scottish bosses found it difficult to recruit unskilled manual staff, three-
quarters production line staff and half professional staff. Two mentioned problems with recruiting
managerial and skilled staff. None, however, reported problems with IT specialists and other technical
staff, secretarial/clerical, sales or reception/customer service.
In the overall survey of agro-food bosses with recruitment difficulties, the greatest problem was to
recruit skilled craft workers (58.9 per cent), followed by sales staff (35.6 per cent), and production
line and professional staff (33.3 per cent each). Only a quarter (24.4 per cent) was short of unskilled
manual workers (see European Survey, Annex A, Table A7). Although there are some similarities
between the European set and the Scottish sub-set, there appears to be a greater shortage of unskilled
manual staff in Scotland than elsewhere, though it is unclear whether this reflects the local pool of

labour or the types of jobs available in the firms.
When asked about the post for which they had the greatest difficulty recruiting staff, table 6 shows the
reasons, in order of frequency, suggested for the difficulty of filling this post.
Table 6 Reasons for recruitment difficulties given by bosses
Reasons Number of Rank
Pay’s considered too low 6 1
The work is boring 5 2
Hours of work (too long/antisocial) 4 3
Poor career prospects 3 4=
Too few fringe benefits 3 4=
Young people aren’t interested in working hard 3 4=
Poor/difficult working conditions 2 7=
Job has a poor image 2 7=
Firm located in a difficult place to reach 2 7=
Not much job security 1 10=
Not enough training opportunities 1 10=
Not enough guidance/ appraisal in job 1 10=
People don't want to/can’t afford to live here 1 10=
Employment agencies don't recommend it 1 10=
Schools don't teach young people the right skills 1 10=
Not enough contact with people .0 0
Applicants don’t have the right qualifications .0 0
N 9

In addition, one boss wrote in that there were very few unemployed people in the area.
The main reasons given concerned perceptions of pay and conditions: low pay and boring work,
which was carried out at unsocial times. Three bosses mentioned other aspects, such as poor career
prospects and too few fringe benefits. Three also stated that ‘young people aren’t interested in
working hard’. Two felt that the job had a poor image and two mentioned that the firm was located in
a place which was difficult to reach (these were both in remote parts of Shetland). None, however,
said that applicants did not have the right qualifications. Overall, the problem seemed to be one of
image, given that pay in the sector is well above the minimum wage, and this tends to confirm the
information given by the SFPA, that recruitment is a problem.
The overall survey of the agro-food sector is similar to the Scottish sub-set in placing ‘pay’s
considered too low’ (59.8 per cent) as the main reason for difficulties in filling their hardest-to-fill
posts; but they placed ‘young people aren’t interested in working hard’ (47.8 per cent) rather higher
and, whereas in Scotland ‘applicants don’t have the right qualifications’ was not an issue, 42.4 per
cent of agro-food bosses overall rated this a problem (European Survey, Annex A, Table A8). The
reason for this difference is unclear. It may arise from the kind of posts that were hardest to fill (the
unskilled manual staff in short supply in Scotland do not need qualifications), or from the general
attitude to and availability of vocational qualifications (Scotland, like the United Kingdom in general,
does not have a strong tradition of vocational education and although ‘paper qualifications’ are
increasing in importance, they are sometimes considered neither necessary nor sufficient for entry to a
Bosses were asked, when recruitment for hard-to-fill posts did take place, what kind of person they
were likely to recruit (table 7).

Table 7 Bosses’ views of likely recruits to hard-to-fill posts
Categories of recruit Responses Rank
Males 8 1
Females 6 2
People between 25 and 45 7 1
People under 25 5 2
People over 45 2 3
Unemployed people 7 1
People transferring from other firms in the same industry 5 2
People coming from other industries 2 3
Recent school leavers 1 4=
People returning to work after a career break 1 4=
People transferring from other posts within your firm 1 4=
Recent graduates .0 0
People who need training 7 1
People who are already suitably trained 5 2
N 9

Unemployed males under forty-five were the most likely recruits, but females were also likely to join
the firms and also people, who were already suitably trained, transferring from other firms in the same
industry. Many likely recruits, however, needed training.
There are some interesting differences between the Scottish subset and the general agro-food survey.
Whereas a significant number of recruits in Scotland were aged under 25, in Europe as a whole the
great majority (76.9 per cent) were predicted to be aged between 25 and 45. The sources of recruits
were similar, however, with the most common sources people transferring from other firms in the
same industry (45.1 per cent) and unemployed people (39.6 per cent), although the order is reversed.
Similarly, about half the recruits in the European survey needed training (European Survey, Annex A,
Table A9).

3.4 Bosses’ views on government action to help overcome skills shortages

Bosses with recruitment problems were then asked to comment on the helpfulness, on a scale from
one to five, of suggestions concerning what they thought government could or should do to help
overcome these skills shortages. Only seven answered this question.
Table 8 Bosses’ suggestions for overcoming skills shortages
Suggestions Score Rank
Reduce the social costs employers have to bear 3.9 1
Reduce the benefits to unemployed people 3.6 2=
Improve the performance of employment agencies and job centres 3.6 2=
Require all unemployed people to take any available job 3.6 2=
Give employers more tax breaks 3.5 5=
Improve the opportunities for young people to experience the world of 3.5 5=
work before they look for their first job
Invest more in vocational education 3.4 7=
Improve careers guidance in schools 3.4 7=
Require all employers to train their workforce 3.3 9
Provide more crèches so that women with children find it easier to work 3.0 10
Shorten the working week 2.9 11
Allow more immigrants into the country 2.7 12
Discourage early retirement among older people 2.6 13=
Reform the school curriculum 2.6 13=

Reducing tax and national insurance for employers and forcing unemployed people into work are the
clearly preferred options. Also scoring fairly highly are the ideas of work experience for young
people, investing in vocational education and improving careers guidance. The requirement that all
employers should train their workforce might not have been such a popular option had owners of
firms, rather than managers who are themselves employees, taken part. Further down the rankings
were family-friendly policies such as providing more crèches and shortening the working week.
Allowing more immigration was not a very popular choice, although work visas for immigrants have
been applied for in Shetland; and, worryingly, in view of forthcoming legislation, the idea of
discouraging early retirement did not seize the imagination. It is particularly interesting, however, that
reforming the school curriculum comes at the bottom of the list, for employers’ federations are
currently complaining about lack of basic skills in the workforce.
In the overall agro-food survey, bosses were more likely to suggest improving education and guidance
than focusing on the narrow interests of the firm. Thus, the most popular options were ‘improve
careers guidance in schools’ (4.0), followed by ‘to improve the opportunities for young people to
experience the world of work before they look for their first job’, ‘invest more in vocational
education’ and ‘reduce the social costs employers have to bear’ (each 3.9) (see European Survey,
Annex A, Table A10). The suggestion that unemployed people should be required to take any
available job scored only 2.5, compared with the higher score by the Scottish bosses (which no doubt
reflects the low unemployment rate in the United Kingdom). Allowing in more immigrants, however,
was almost equally unpopular (2.2).


4.1 Identification of skill gaps and the relevance of qualifications

4.1.1 Skills
Bosses were asked how important, on a scale of one to five, various skills were for workers in their
firm in general. Workers were asked the same question, as applied to their particular job, and were
also asked to rate their own skills. The results have been combined in table 9.
Table 9 Bosses and workers’ opinions of the importance of skills needed in their firm/job
Skills Bosses’ opinion Workers’ Workers’ self-
opinion assessment
Score Rank Score Rank Score Rank
Having a flexible attitude 4.8 1 4.7 1= 4.6 1
Working in a team 4.7 2= 4.6 4 4.6 1
Being accurate 4.7 2= 4.7 1= 4.4 3
Being well organised/systematic 4.0 4 4.7 1= 4.2 4=
Being logical 3.9 5= 4.5 5 4.2 4=
Having physical fitness 3.9 5= 3.3 15 3.8 11=
Managing people 3.7 7 3.8 7= 3.8 11=
Having nimble fingers 3.6 8= 3.6 10= 3.8 11=
Having specific knowledge 3.6 8= 4.3 6 4.2 4=
Being imaginative 3.1 10 3.4 13= 3.8 11=
Being caring 3.0 11 3.6 10= 4.0 7=
Being good with numbers 2.8 12= 3.7 9 3.9 10
Dealing with customers/public 2.8 12= 3.4 13= 4.0 7=
Being mechanically minded 2.7 14 2.8 16 3.1 16
Writing correct grammar 2.4 15= 3.8 7= 4.0 7=
Using a computer 2.4 15= 3.5 12 3.5 15

Speaking foreign languages 1.4 17 1.6 17 1.5 17
N 9 24 24

The figures in bold refer to attributes where there is a significant statistical difference between
workers’ opinion of the skills needed for their jobs and their self-assessment. The workers overall felt
that they were fitter and more caring and had nimbler fingers than required by the job. Since the
importance attached to speaking foreign languages is so low, the statistical significance there is of no
The survey of agro-food workers generally shows very similar results: the highest values are given to
being organised (4.6); accuracy (4.4); teamwork, flexible attitude and specific knowledge (4.3); and
being logical (4.2). Speaking foreign languages also came last (2.5). Overall, though, being caring and
dealing with customers scored more highly (4.0) than in the Scottish sub-set (European Survey,
Annex B, Table B3).
There are some differences between the Scottish responses and those in the agro-food survey as a
whole. Accuracy, team-working, flexibility and organisation were given high scores by bosses in the
agro-food sector throughout the European survey, but specific knowledge and customer care ranked
lower in the Scottish survey (see European Report, Annex A, table A1).
It should be borne in mind that the bosses’ and workers’ views are not strictly comparable, as bosses
were asked about their workers’ skills in general whereas workers were assessing the skills needed in
their particular jobs.
Nevertheless, the rankings of bosses and workers concerning skills needed are broadly similar at the
top and the bottom of the rankings. All placed a flexible attitude at the top and team-working,
accuracy, organisation and logic were valued by both sets. Since workers on average felt their skills in
these areas (except for team-working) were not quite as good as needed, concentrating in-service
training here would appear to be an acceptable option for both parties.
Similarly, speaking foreign languages and using a computer were at or near the bottom for both.
There are two notable exceptions: bosses valued physical fitness far above workers (but the latter
thought they were fitter than they actually needed to be for the job); and conversely, workers placed
more importance on writing correct grammar (but again thought they were better than their job
demanded). Both rankings and scores diverge in these areas.
In terms of scores, workers appeared to place a higher value on their jobs than did bosses in several
areas: being well-organised (workers 4.7, bosses 4.0), having specific knowledge (workers 4.3, bosses
3.6), being logical (workers 4.5, bosses 3.9), being good with numbers (workers 3.7, bosses 2.8) and
using a computer (workers 3.5, bosses 2.4). White-collar workers were highly likely to emphasise
numeracy and computer use, given the nature of modern office work; looking at the blue-collar
workers who gave scores of 4 or 5, however, all fifteen thought their jobs demanded being organised,
fourteen thought they needed specific knowledge and logical thinking to do their jobs and ten thought
they needed to be good with numbers.
Workers were modest about their skills in the highest-ranked areas, but felt that their abilities were
above the level needed for their jobs in the matters of being imaginative, caring, mechanically-minded
and dealing with the public. Similarly, agro-food workers in general felt they could be more flexible,
accurate and good at team working (4.2), more organised (4.1) and more caring (4.1), but felt they
were good at dealing with customers (4.0) (European Survey, Annex B, Table B4).

4.1.2 Qualifications
Of the twenty-five workers, nine (about one third) of the workers had completed lower secondary
school, twelve (almost a half) upper secondary school, three had attended further education and one
had a degree. Six (about a quarter, and including four of the fifteen manual workers) had vocational
qualifications and were working towards others; a further six (including four of the manual workers)
had some but were not working towards any others, and just one without qualifications, a manual
worker, was currently working towards some.

Twelve (almost half), however, had no vocational qualifications and were not working towards any.
This last group included six of the manual workers.
The educational profile for the whole agro-food survey is similar, but fewer had or were working
towards vocational qualifications than in the Scottish survey (see European Survey, Annex D, Table
Of those who had or were working towards vocational qualifications, the average number of awards
was 1.3 (compared with only 0.6 in the whole agro-food sample, see European Survey, Annex B,
Table B12, see also Table B13), all of which were considered relevant to their present jobs. This
figure, however, does not fully reflect the picture. Of those with or working towards vocational
qualifications, the average number was 2.3 and the range was one to five. Furthermore, taking into
account the level of qualifications, just one had only level two. Eight were (or would be) qualified to
level three, two to Higher National Diploma/Certificate level and two to first degree level.
The qualifications held by the group as a whole included typing and shorthand, computer operation,
accounting and business studies; hygiene, health and safety, food and drink manufacture and first aid;
team leadership and quality monitoring
The group as a whole, then, is polarised between non- or low-qualified workers and those at level
three or above.
Those with relevant qualifications were asked for their reasons for studying (table 10).
Table 10 Workers’ reasons for having or taking job-relevant qualifications
Reasons Score Ranking
To get my first job in this type of work 35.7 1=
To widen my career opportunities/choices 35.7 1=
My boss advised me to 35.7 1=
Because I thought it sounded interesting 28.6 4=
To get a better job in this type of work 28.6 4=
My family/friends advised me to 14.3 6
Other people (e.g. teachers) advised me to 7.1 7
Unemployment office advised me to .0 0
Private employment agency advised me to .0 0
N 14

Instrumental reasons were the most common, principally to obtain or advance in a job; but four
people, two of whom were manual workers, selected ‘because it sounded interesting’. Other reasons
given include ‘relevance to job in workplace’ and ‘essential for working here’.
The commonest reasons given by all the agro-food workers were broadly similar: ‘because I thought it
sounded interesting’ (45.8 per cent), ‘to widen my career opportunities’ (44.9 per cent), ‘to get my
first job in this type of work’ (35.6 per cent), ‘to get a better job in this type of work’ (34.7 per cent);
but only 15.3 per cent said their boss had advised them to take the qualifications (European Survey,
Annex B, Table B14).

4.2 Strategies: training

4.2.1 Trainees and apprentices

Of the seven firms represented in the bosses’ survey, only two had any formal trainees or apprentices.
Perhaps surprisingly, these were firms of respectively a hundred and 120 employees. The two large
firms had no trainees. This contrasts with the overall agro-food survey, where just under half (48.5 per
cent) of firms had apprentices/trainees and the average number of these in the firms which had them
was seven. These were primarily in skilled crafts, production line and sales (European Survey, Annex
A, Tables A11-13, and see Tables A14-17 on other aspects of apprenticeships).

Both were male aged under twenty-five, one a recent school leaver and the other a current employee
being transferred to a different section. One was training for a skilled craft, via part-time study,
outside work premises, during working hours. The other was being trained both for the production
line and unskilled manual work, following a course provided on work premises, during and after
working hours. He would be awarded a qualification for things he already knew (Scottish Vocational
Qualification level 2, which is work-based).

4.2.2 Continuing vocational training

Both bosses and workers were asked about training in the previous twelve months. Training was
described as courses on the firm’s premises; courses outside the workplace; conferences, seminars,
workshops or similar; on the job training, someone showing someone else how to do something; time
at work for personal study; distance learning; rotation of posts at work (for training purposes); and
scheduled discussion groups with colleagues to talk about ways of doing the job better. Respondents
were also invited to add any other types of training engaged in.
Whereas all the firms had provided training, the average percentage of workers estimated to have
received it was 78.3, which accords closely with the three-quarters (nineteen) of the workers surveyed
said they had received it. Twelve of these were manual, craft and production line workers. By
contrast, only just over half the workers in the whole agro-food sample had received training (see
European Survey, Annex B, Table B15).
Of the Scottish workers, the average number of hours spent on training over the year was 69.2 (with a
range of three to three hundred hours), estimated at 3.8 per cent of paid time (compared with the
workers in the whole agro-food survey who had received training, who reported having spent 66.4
hours in training, or 1.8 per cent of paid time - see European Survey, Annex B, Table B17). Firms, on
the other hand, said that on average 2.1 per cent of paid time was spent on training, and it is probable
that the workers, overall, who volunteered for the survey were more involved in training than those
who did not take part.

4.2.3 Training plans

Bosses were asked if their firm had a training plan and if so how long the plan had been in existence
and what percentage of turnover was allocated to training.
All seven firms had a training plan and the average length of such plans was 4.8 years (with a range of
two to ten years), so the idea of a training plan for most firms was quite a recent innovation. The
largest firm, with 13,000 workers, had had a training plan only for four years, but the smallest, with
forty employees, had had one for six years. The other large firm, with 5,000 workers, had the longest
in existence, at ten years.
Only five bosses were in a position to estimate its annual value as a percentage of turnover, and the
average was 0.64 per cent.
In the overall agro-food survey, on the other hand, only 38.6 per cent of firms had a training plan,
though the estimated value of those that existed was 1.09 per cent of turnover and the plans had been
in existence for an average of 6.1 years (see European Survey, Annex A, Tables A30, A31, A32).

4.2.4 Certification of existing competences

In the United Kingdom this would most commonly take the form of National or Scottish Vocational
Qualifications, which range from level 1 (basic) to 5 (higher degree equivalent). Four of the seven
firms said that they had such a scheme, comprising the two largest and the two smallest firms.
In the overall survey of the agro-food sector, however, only 20.6 per cent certified existing
competencies (European Survey, Annex A, Table A33).

4.3 Analysis of training

4.3.1 Types of training

Both bosses and bosses were asked about types of job-related training in the past year: bosses what
they had provided in percentage terms and workers what they had received (percentages total more
than 100 because of workers receiving more than one kind of training (table 11).
Table 11 Types of training in the last twelve months reported by bosses and workers
Types of training Bosses Rank Workers Rank
Course on the firm’s premises 35.6 1 57.9 1
On-the-job training, someone showing someone 33.8 2 52.6 2
else how to do something
Course outside the workplace 18.8 3 42.1 3
Rotation of posts at work (for training purposes) 5.0 4 15.8 5
Conferences, seminars, workshops or similar 3.8 5 .0 0
Scheduled discussion groups with colleagues to 2.5 6 10.5 6
talk about ways of doing the job better
Distance learning 0.4 7 .0 0
Time at work for personal study 0.3 8 N/a
Personal study, either at work or elsewhere N/a 21.1 4
Total percentage (bosses only) 100
N 8 19

There is agreement in terms of ranking between the two groups, with courses on the firm’s premises
and on-the-job training comprising the majority of activity, followed by courses outside the
workplace. The differences in amount arise because workers took several types of training within the
same year and the greater number taking courses outside the workplace reflects the higher-than-
average educational and occupational level of the respondents. One question was not the same for
both bosses and workers. ‘Time at work for personal study’ came bottom of the rankings and with a
very small score for bosses, but 20 per cent of workers, who were asked about personal study ‘either
at work or elsewhere’, said they did this, and it is probable that they meant that they did some of their
studying at home or in a library.
The overall survey shows that fewer agro-food firms trained their workers (only three-fifths,
compared with all the Scottish firms) and those that did trained fewer than the Scottish firms (45.4 per
cent compared with 78.3 per cent). On the other hand, those who did were most likely to provide in-
house (41.8 per cent) and external courses (16.6 per cent), and only 23.6 per cent on-the-job training
(European Survey, Annex A, Tables A18-20, 23). There was, therefore, much more emphasis on
training but slightly less formal training in the Scottish firms, and much more on-the-job training than
in Europe as a whole. This apparent difference, however, may arise from differing perceptions of
what constitutes ‘training’. Furthermore, 35.7 per cent of the workers in the agro-food survey said
they had received on-the-job training, although at the same time 48.7 per cent had taken in-house and
32.5 per cent external courses (European Survey, Annex B, Table B16).

4.3.2 Costs of training

Both bosses and workers were asked who had born the cost of training (table 12).
Table 12 Bosses’ and workers’ reports on funding of training
Fees paid by firm Bosses Workers
Yes, all of them 88.9 55.6
Yes, some of them 11.1 5.6
No, none of them .0 5.6
There were no fees (training provided from staffing .0 33.3

N 9 18

Eight of the bosses said that the firm paid all the course fees for their workers’ vocational training and
one said that it paid for some of the fees. This is similar to the overall agro-food survey (see European
Survey, Annex A, Table A21 and Annex B, Table B18). Workers, however, claimed that one-third of
their training was funded from the staffing budget. It is likely that bosses misinterpreted the question.
Both bosses and workers were asked about payment for the time spent on vocational training (table
Table 13 Bosses’ and workers’ reports on funding of time spent training
Firm paid for time spent on vocational training Bosses Workers
Yes, all of it 77.8 88.9
Yes, some of it 22.2 5.6
No, none of it .0 5.6
N 9 18

The disparity here is hard to analyse in any meaningful way but again shows the slightly
unrepresentative nature of the employee sample. The overall agro-food bosses’ survey gives an almost
identical result (European Survey, Annex A, Table A22, see also Annex B, Table B19).
Bosses were asked if their firm supported workers who chose to study by themselves (table 14).
Table 14 Bosses’ support for workers choosing to study by themselves
Support provided Number of responses
No, not at all 0
Yes, by providing unpaid study leave 2
Yes, by providing paid study time 2
Yes, by paying course fees 6
N (firms) 6

Of the six firms represented in the responses, all said that they paid course fees for such workers, two
provided unpaid and two paid study leave. In the overall agro-food survey, on the other hand, almost
half (46.1 per cent) provided no support for private study, although a further 29.7 per cent paid course
fees (European Survey, Annex A, Table A34).

4.3.3 Selection of employees for training

Bosses were asked the various bases on which workers were selected for training and workers were
asked the bases on which they themselves had been selected for training (table 15).
Table 15 Bosses’ and workers’ reports on bases of selection for training
Bases of selection for training Bosses Rank Workers Rank
No selection, everyone in particular jobs has to do it 88.9 1 50.0 1
No selection, anyone who is interested/eligible can 55.6 2= 22.2 3
do it
People who need specific skills are selected 55.6 2= 27.8 2
People with potential for promotion are selected 44.4 3 .0 0
People apply to attend, but only some are selected 22.2 4 5.6 4=
Individual study (i.e. no selection) 11.1 5 5.6 4=
N 9 18

Again the disparity reflects the nature of the employee sample, in which six of those answering this

question were white-collar workers or managers. The stringent health and safety requirements in the
food-processing area account for the fact that eight of the bosses said that everyone in particular jobs
had to receive training; but out of the twelve manual, craft and production line workers who received
training, only eight said that they had had no choice. One had chosen to do it, one had applied for
additional training, and three had had only training that they applied for. An additional method of
selection was by line managers.
The overall agro-food survey shows rather more emphasis on the selection of people needing specific
skills (62.5 per cent), and fewer (53.8 per cent) gave training to all in particular jobs, without selection
(European Survey, Annex A, Table A24). The experience of Scottish workers and the whole agro-
food sample is broadly similar; those who had received vocational training because all had to do it
constituted 42 per cent, with only 26.7 per cent selected because they needed specific skills and 22 per
cent because they chose to (European Survey, Annex B, Table B20).

4.3.4 Evaluation of training carried out in the past year

Bosses and workers were again asked matched questions, rating on a scale of 1 to 5 (from least to
most useful) the vocational training carried out in the past year on the issues of ‘helping them to do
their present jobs better’ and ‘helping them with career progression’ (table 16).
Table 16 Bosses’ and workers’ evaluation of usefulness of training carried out in the last twelve
Usefulness of vocational training Bosses Workers
For helping them to do their present jobs better 4.6 4.3
For helping them with career progression 4.1 3.4
N 9 17

Both groups were very satisfied overall with the effect of the training in helping their job
performance, but workers were less likely than bosses to feel that it advanced their careers. The
overall agro-food results are similar (see European Survey, Annex B, Table B21).
Bosses’ third option was ‘helping the firm to adapt to future demands’, which scored a high 4.2.
Workers’ third option was ‘for getting a different type of job’, scoring a rather low 3.2, which is not
surprising since training is generally geared to the kind of job currently undertaken and focuses on
specific rather than transferable skills.
The overall agro-food survey shows that bosses were also very satisfied that the vocational training
they had provided had improved workers’ performance (4.4) and helped the firm (4.0) but less likely
to say that it had helped workers’ career progression (3.3) (European Survey, Annex A, Table A25).
Both groups were asked about training for the specific skills which workers had been asked to assess
in the context of their jobs and their own abilities. Bosses were asked which skills were focused on,
using a scale of 1 (great emphasis) to 5 (not covered) and workers were asked which skills training
they personally thought they needed in order to do their jobs better (table 17).

Table 17 Bosses’ report on focus of skills training and workers’ assessments of training need
Skills Bosses’ emphasis Workers’ assessment
of training needed
Score Rank % Rank
Having specific knowledge 3.6 1 81.0 1
Working in a team 3.2 2 61.9 9
Managing people 3.1 3 76.2 2=
Having a flexible attitude 2.9 4= 52.4 12
Being accurate 2.9 4= 66.7 5=
Being well organised/systematic 2.8 6 57.1 10=
Being logical 2.3 7 71.4 4
Using a computer 2.2 8 66.7 5=
Being good with numbers 2.0 9= 57.1 10=
Being mechanically minded 2.0 9= 23.8 15
Having physical fitness 1.9 11 33.3 13
Dealing with customers/public 1.8 12= 66.7 5=
Having nimble fingers 1.8 12= 19.0 16=
Being imaginative 1.7 14 76.2 2=
Being caring 1.4 15 28.6 14
Writing correct grammar 1.2 16 66.7 5=
Speaking foreign languages 1.0 17 19.0 16=
N 9 21

Note that when asked which skills were most important in their firm, bosses had prioritised ‘having a
flexible attitude’, ‘working in a team’, ‘being accurate’, ‘being well organised’ and ‘being logical’
(see table 9). ‘Having specific knowledge’ was ranked eighth, and yet training was focused on this
above all else (as in the European Survey, Annex A, Table A26). This presumably means that this was
the site of the most important skill gaps perceived by firms.
Workers were asked with which skills they felt training could most help them to do their jobs better.
Some gave negative responses, not because they necessarily felt certain skills were unimportant but
because they felt they did not need training in them, so some of the disparity between bosses’ focus
and workers’ self-assessment of training needs is explained to some extent. Certain categories,
however, differ strikingly between the two groups. Skills rated low by bosses but given positive
responses by a majority of workers include ‘being imaginative’, ‘writing correct grammar’, ‘being
good with numbers’ and ‘using a computer’. The last three refer to basic skills needs (a level of IT
competence is becoming a basic skill to add to literacy and numeracy) and the low value put on them
by bosses reflects other research evidence that bosses give too little basic skills training (see UK
Report 1).
Workers in the overall agro-food survey also felt that they needed specific knowledge (80.5 per cent);
to be well-organised (64.3 per cent); to be able to use a computer and manage people (each 62.5 per
cent); to work in a team (61.8 per cent); and to be accurate and know how to deal with customers
(60.7 per cent). Far more, however, thought they needed foreign languages (46 per cent), and writing
correct grammar was rated last (see European Survey, Annex B, Table B23).
Bosses were then asked to evaluate the success of the training in those skills which they had rated 3, 4
or 5 in terms of focus and workers were also asked to evaluate their skills training (table 18).

Table 18 Bosses’ and workers’ evaluation of success of training (N = the number who had given
or received training in this particular skill)
Skills in which training was given Bosses Workers
Mean N Mean N
Dealing with customers/the public 4.3 3 4.1 7
Having physical fitness 4.0 3 3.8 5
Having specific knowledge 3.9 8 4.3 16
Managing people 3.7 7 3.9 9
Being well organised/systematic 3.5 6 4.4 14
Being good with numbers 3.5 4 3.7 7
Being accurate 3.4 7 4.3 11
Using a computer 3.4 5 4.3 7
Working in a team 3.3 7 4.0 14
Being logical 3.3 4 3.7 14
Having a flexible attitude 3.2 5 4.3 12
Being mechanically minded 3.2 5 3.5 6
Being imaginative 3.0 1 3.5 10
Being caring 3.0 2 4.1 7
Writing correct grammar 3.0 1 3.7 7
Having nimble fingers 2.8 4 3.7 6

It is notable that, although bosses expressed a high degree of satisfaction overall (see table 16), this is
not reflected in their assessment of training for specific skills. Just as they valued the skills inherent in
their jobs more than did bosses, workers also valued the training more highly in all categories except
‘physical fitness’ and ‘dealing with customers/the public’ (both rated the most satisfactory by bosses
and the only two skills to score an average of 4 or more - but provided by only three bosses). For
skills training provided by five or more of the bosses, those rated the most satisfactory were ‘having
specific knowledge’, ‘managing people’, ‘being well-organised/systematic’, ‘using a computer’ and
‘being accurate’. Given that 3 represents ‘satisfactory’, however, bosses were in generally content
with the outcomes of training, if not as enthusiastic as some of their workers.
In the overall agro-food survey, bosses’ ratings were similar to the Scottish ones (except for physical
fitness) in placing customer care (4.2) as the most successful area for skills training. This was
followed by specific knowledge (4.1), team-working and accuracy (both 3.8) (European Survey,
Annex A, Table A27). The workers’ assessments are similar in ranking but overall they rated aspects
of training lower: only ‘having specific knowledge’ (4.2) and ‘being well-organised’ (4.0) were
comparable with the Scottish results (see European Survey, Annex B, Table B22).

4.4 Skills acquisition and mobility

An important issue for bosses is that, having been trained, their workers do not take their new or
upgraded skills to another firm, possibly in the same area and indeed a competitor. Fear of ‘poaching’
is well-justified.
Hence, bosses were asked if, in general, their trainees and apprentices wanted to stay with their firm
when they had finished their training. One boss said yes and the other that some did and others did
not. Both the current trainees were very likely to be asked to stay on after completing their
apprenticeships, which is to be expected given the investment in their training; but whether or not they
will, or for how long, remains to be seen.
Concerning workers who had recently received continuing vocational training, bosses were asked if
this made them any more or less likely than other employees to leave the firm. Of the nine bosses,
three said they were slightly more likely to stay with the firm, three that they were much more likely
to stay and three that it made no difference. In other words, these bosses did not particularly fear that

training would harm the firm through losing it employees. The overall agro-food survey gives a
similar result, with only 10.8 per cent of bosses feeling that trained employees were much more or
slightly more likely to leave, 37.3 per cent believing it would make no difference and 51.8 per cent
thinking they would be slightly or much more likely to stay with the firm (European Survey, Annex
A, Table A28).
Asked the reason for their responses, all five bosses who answered this question said that training
made workers feel more loyal to the firm, four that they got a pay increase after completing a course
three that their career prospects in the firm improved and one that they had more marketable skills (in
which, presumably, they took pride but did not wish to sell elsewhere). The results for the European
Survey are similar, though fewer said workers got a pay rise after completing a course (see Annex A,
Table A29).
In a question unrelated to work-provided training, workers were asked if they ever thought of working
in a different type of job altogether (not necessarily in a different firm, though). Their answers have
been collated with their access to training in the past year (table 19).
Table 19 Workers’ feelings about changing job compared with receipt of training in the last
twelve months
All workers Workers Workers not
trained in trained in
Attitude to job change the last year the last year
No, never 2 1 1
Sometimes, but not seriously 18 14 4
Yes, I’d like to change 4 3 1
Yes, I’m determined to change 1 1 0
N 25 19 6

It is hard to make much of a small sample which is further broken down into categories, but taking
‘never’ and ‘not seriously’ together, twenty workers were content to stay in their jobs, but a quarter of
these had not received training in the last year. The five who would like to or were determined to
change included four who had received training and one who had not. The effect of training is
inconclusive; but in any case, the word ‘job’ is ambiguous, as it can be interpreted as ‘post’ or
‘employment in a particular firm’.
Workers who did not say they were determined to move were also asked if they were interested in
being promoted at work. These results have also been collated with receipt of training within the last
year (table 20).
Table 20 Workers’ attitude to promotion, compared with receipt of training in the last twelve
All workers Workers Workers not
(%) trained in trained in
Attitude to promotion the last year the last year
Yes, I’d like to move on as soon as possible 2 2 0
Yes, at some time in the future 4 2 2
It depends on what is on offer 10 10 0
No, I’m happy as I am 5 2 3
There’s no chance of promotion here 4 3 1
N 25 19 6

It should be noted that none of the four who said there was no chance of promotion were thinking of
changing jobs and only one of the two who would like to move on as soon as possible was thinking of
changing jobs. There is no conclusive evidence here to show an effect of training on future aspirations
in terms of either changing job or seeking promotion.

For agro-food workers in general with regard to leaving the job or seeking promotion, see the
European Survey, Annex B, Tables B10-11.

4.5 External support for training

Bosses were asked a number of questions in this area concerning compulsory levies, bosses’
associations and informal co-operation (Table 21).
Table 21 Bosses’ knowledge of external support for training
External support for training Exists Planned No plans Don’t
Compulsory levy on all employers 0 0 3 2
Employers' association runs courses 3 0 1 1
Informal cooperation 3 0 0 2

Asked to give their opinions of these options, no bosses favoured a compulsory levy on all bosses and
three thought it a bad idea; three thought that it a good idea that bosses’ associations should run
courses and three favoured informal co-operation. Two, however, did not know.
In the overall agro-food survey, on the other hand, 29.7 per cent of bosses said firms were subject to a
compulsory levy and plans for one were reported by a further five per cent. A similar number (30.1
per cent) said that employers’ associations ran courses and 29 per cent reported informal co-operation.
Their opinions of these collective arrangements were similar to those in the Scottish sub-set
(European Survey, Annex A, Tables A35-36).

4.6 Evaluation and recommendations

Finally, both bosses and workers were asked to show the extent to which they agreed or disagreed
with statements concerning continuing vocational training in general, followed by an open-ended
question in which they could comment about CVT in their industry or firm in particular.

4.6.1 Evaluation of CVT
The scores and rankings for both bosses and workers are in table 22. The higher the score, the higher
the general agreement with the statement.
Table 22 Bosses’ and workers’ attitudes towards continuous vocational training (CVT)
Bosses Workers
Attitudes to CVT Score Rank Score Rank
Training should be provided in paid time 4.4 1 4.2 1
Everyone needs training and retraining throughout 4.3 2= 4.0 4=
their lifetime
You learn a lot of useful things on CVT courses 4.3 2= 4.1 2=
This country needs a better trained workforce 3.9 4 4.1 2=
Employers should be made to train their workers 3.6 5 4.0 4=
I wish we had more CVT in this firm 3.5 6 3.5 6
Workers should be prepared to use some of their free 3.0 7 3.2 9=
time for training
The unions should provide more CVT 2.9 8= 3.3 8
The unions should put pressure on employers to 2.9 8= 3.4 7
provide CVT
It’s difficult to find out what CVT courses are 2.7 10 2.9 11
It should be up to individuals to decide if they want 2.0 11= 3.2 9=
I’d rather work than go on a course 2.0 11= 2.8 12
CVT is the job of the government 2.0 11= 2.6 13
Most CVT is a waste of time 1.9 14 1.8 14
People who already have a job don’t need CVT 1.6 15 1.6 15
N 7 24

Both bosses and workers were in accord that training should be provided in paid time, although there
was agreement from both that workers should be prepared to use some of their free time for training.
Other areas in which both groups were in strong agreement include the lifelong learning agenda as
applied to training, the usefulness of CVT, the wish to have more in the firm and the need for a better
trained workforce in general. The agro-food sector in general supported all of these ideas (European
Survey, Annex A, Table A37, Annex B, Table B24).
There are also many areas where both groups disagree with the statement, including the ideas that
training, is mostly a waste of time, is not as enjoyable or worthwhile as working and is unnecessary
for people who already have a job.
Workers (especially in the whole agro-food sample, see European Survey, Annex B, Table B24) were
more in favour than bosses of trade union involvement, either in providing CVT or putting pressure
on firms to provide it, and much more in favour of individuals deciding for themselves if they wanted
training. Judging by the general enthusiasm for CVT, this might well refer more to wishing to have
more choice of training than any antipathy to it.

4.6.2 Additional comments concerning CVT in the firm

Only one boss made such a comment: that attaining other skills brought no rewards from the firm; and
one employee (a fish gutter): ‘'The United Kingdom needs much more CVT to catch up with the EU
and USA in industrial productivity. Catching up in this area in the long term would be profitable for
business and improve pay and conditions for workers. Firms could catch up with innovation and be
able to charge more for goods and services generating more capital and profit and better share values.’

As noted above, it is difficult to draw useful conclusions from such a small survey; comparisons with
the overall European survey, however, do show to what extent the Scottish sample reflects the overall
situation in the agro-food sectors surveyed in each country. The discussion following concerns the
European agro-food survey in general: where the Scottish survey differs significantly, this will be
made clear.
The majority of bosses stated that they had recruitment problems but there were significant
differences between the Scottish and the general survey. In Scotland the greatest difficulties lay in
finding unskilled manual and production line workers, whereas these were much less of a problem
elsewhere. From conversations with representatives of the fish-processing industry, it seems likely
that, as these occupations entail direct contact with fish, they are seen as undesirable because of the
smell, which can be difficult to get rid of. In the European survey as a whole, fish-processing was
seen as the least desirable occupation, probably for this reason. Since there is almost full employment
in the United Kingdom, workers can more easily choose not to take such unpopular jobs even though,
certainly in Shetland, the rates of pay are well above the minimum wage (even though bosses said that
perception of low pay was the most important factor in recruitment problems). In Iceland, migrant
workers are an important part of the fish-processing production lines, but this solution was favoured
by few bosses anywhere, despite industry moves to implement it in Shetland.
The main factors attracting workers to the industry, as agreed by both bosses and workers, were
secure employment and good pay. An unexpected result was that workers also agreed that the work
seemed interesting. Since bosses ranked this lower than workers, it might aid recruitment if they
tapped into any latent interest by advertising various aspects of the job as well as pay, conditions and
the work environment, especially as workers had positive perceptions of the food processing industry
in general. Furthermore, although occupations in food processing were ranked below almost all others
suggested in the questionnaire, they were not ranked as ‘bad jobs’ but somewhere in the middle,
compared to high-status and well-paid occupations such as doctor and lawyer. Workers were also
satisfied with their own jobs, especially because they gave opportunities to work with other people,
were secure and the work was interesting. This is an important factor in recruitment potential, as
workers in Scotland in particular generally used informal ‘word-of-mouth’ methods of gaining
information about firms.
There are differences between the Scottish and the general survey on likely recruits to hard-to-fill
posts, which reflect the different kinds of skill shortage. In Scotland, it was thought that young people
were more likely to fill posts whereas in general, since the European shortages were for posts
demanding longer experience and more qualifications, older people were expected to apply. In both
cases, however, the likelihood would be that unemployed people needing training and people
transferring from other firms, and therefore already trained, would be the most likely recruits.
The provision of initial training, therefore, would seem to be necessary for most firms; there was
general agreement that a better-trained workforce was needed, and that training and retraining were
necessary throughout working life; but the options most favoured by bosses to overcome skill
shortages and skills gaps involved no effort or investment on their part. Hence, providing crèches and
providing training were little more popular than encouraging immigration. The idea of a compulsory
training levy on employers was unwelcome, although this does exist in some countries. On the other
hand, outside Scotland, apprenticeships were quite common.
Nevertheless, Scottish workers were much more likely than others to cite training opportunities as a
positive aspect of their jobs, and it appears that training is much more common in Scotland than in the
other countries surveyed, partly because of labour turnover and the need to induct newcomers and
partly because of the extremely stringent regulations governing all parts of fish processing, which
necessitate on-going training in health, safety and hygiene. In general the workers were polarised
between qualified and non-qualified, but in Scotland workers were more likely to have or be studying
for vocational qualifications and were more likely to say that their boss had advised them to do so. All
the Scottish firms had a training plan compared with just over a third in the overall survey and were
more likely to certify existing competences. If the Scottish survey is at all representative, it does

appear than training and on-going learning are taken more seriously in the Scottish fish-processing
sector than in agro-food generally.
One of the risks of providing training, of course, is that workers might be ‘poached’ by another firm
which thereby gains a competitive advantage by obtaining skilled workers without having itself to
invest in their training. The bosses in this survey, however, expressed few such fears and none did in
the Scottish survey, partly perhaps because training has to be carried out by all (or most) firms and
partly because workers themselves appreciate training opportunities. It appears that, as long as firms
provide a reasonable level of pay, and security of employment and a good working environment, they
have much to gain and nothing to lose from providing training - whether this consists of courses, on-
the-job learning or other kinds of provision, and particularly if provided in paid time (which both
bosses and workers thought important).
There is a notable contrast, however, between the skills that bosses (and indeed workers) thought were
most important in their firms and the kind of training provided. Transferable skills, including
flexibility, team-working, accuracy, organisation and logic, were generally ranked above specific
knowledge, and these were the skills which many workers identified as needing improvement in their
cases. Nevertheless, when asked about training needs and provision, both bosses and workers gave top
ranking to specific knowledge. There appears to be a mismatch here, although it is fair to point out
that many workers did report receiving training in transferable as well as specific skills. It is also
likely that the real importance of specific skills training, especially in health, hygiene and safety,
leaves too little in the training budget for other skills.
In conclusion, training in the Scottish sample is afforded a high degree of importance and is provided
for the majority of workers. There are problems in recruitment, which appear largely outside the
control of firms, for the more unpopular types of job and there is a question mark over the skills
training actually delivered, which focuses on specific rather than on transferable skills.


The North Atlantic Fisheries College

Shetland is unusual in that it is able to manage all aspects of fishing and fish farming, including
catching and farming, processing, training and quality control, but the long-term conservation and
sustainability of the sector is extremely important for the islands. The need for the conservation of
stocks as well as the efficient operation of processing had led to a partnership, perhaps unique,
between the Shetland fishermen, the fish processors and the North Atlantic Fisheries College, based in
Shetland, which lies at the heart of the North Atlantic fishing grounds and has one of the most modern
fishing industries in Europe.
The college was built in 1992 and constitutes Shetland’s biggest and most forward-thinking
investment in the future of fishing and fish farming. It provides training in all aspects of the fishing
and fish processing industry, and offers a wide range of courses, including marine biology,
environmental science and food science, business studies and fish handling. It is, therefore, claimed
that everyone in the Shetland fish industry, from fishermen, through fish processors on the factory
floor, to factory managers are among the best trained in the industry. The college works closely with
the Shetland Seafood Quality Control company so that its training encompasses the correct quality
control guidelines in the handling and processing of fish.
It offers a very wide range of courses, from short one day practical training sessions of particular use
to firms, to one year full-time post graduate degrees (MSc) and PhDs, and a large number of shorter
courses leading to vocational qualifications relevant to the fishing and fish processing sectors.
In addition to providing training, the North Atlantic Fisheries College carries out research and product
development, thus offering expertise and innovation to the local fish processing industry and
contributing to its development.
Its research is often carried out in partnership with local industry sectors. For example, it recently

carried out studies into the sustainability of the pelagic fishery in co-operation with the local pelagic
fishing fleet. There is ongoing research into the ways in which fishing and fish farming may become
more environmentally friendly, that is, both sustainable and more humane. The techniques of fish
farming are another research area of particular importance, since farmed fish are particularly prone to
disease and parasites. When wild fish are contaminated by escaped farm fish, there are potentially
catastrophic consequences for the wild fish population and therefore for the livelihood of fishermen.
The college recently became the University of the Highlands and Islands Millennium Institute's centre
for applied fisheries research
The college has facilities and staff dedicated to the development of new products and techniques,
including restocking. In one instance, lobsters are reared to maturity and then released into the wild to
boost local stocks.

Dench, S, Hillage, J, Reilly, P and Kodz, J (2000), Employers Skill Survey: Case Study - Food
Manufacturing Sector. Sheffield: Department for Education and Employment
Food Standards Agency, http://www.food.gov.uk
Scottish Fisheries Statistics (2000), sfs2.pdf
Shetland Fish Processors’ Association, http://www.sfpa.co.uk