Whilst there remains much uncertainty about the effects of Britain’s decision to leave the European Union, one thing is clear…food and drink manufacturers need to plan for the worst given the scale of the potential labour constraints they may face.

This was a central issue being discussed at the 2017 Food and Drink IT Summit, where Working Time Solutions’ Rob Crossman and our specialist Manufacturing team was giving a presentation on shift pattern optimisation technology and methodology.

From the conversations we had with delegates, Brexit planning is driving many manufacturers to appraise their current working patterns and explore the benefits of investing in the implementation of Demand-Led Rostering.

The possible impact of Brexit on the industry was emphasised in a recent article within The Grocer : ‘Food and drink industry facing time bomb on labour’

In it, OC&C head of consumer goods Will Hayllar says: “The winners through these turbulent times will be businesses that take control and shape their own future, investing to drive the productivity improvements needed to offset a tightening labour market…”

Ultimately food and drink manufacturers know they need to be able to respond quickly to any changes that may restrict the movement of EU workers or create additional inflationary pressures.

Labour gap

Around 30% of the food & drink workforce are from the EU, the highest in any UK sector.

This amounts to around 117,000 of the 400,000 people that drive the nation’s £20 billion food and drink exports.

Whilst the media has often focused on the impact to the high volume/low-skill agricultural end of the supply chain, there are also many skilled EU nationals who are vital to the sector’s success.

A significant reduction in the overall labour pool, or any measure which further increases labour costs, could significantly harm a sector which often operates on the narrowest of margins.

When you factor in the risk of additional costs created by import and export tariffs, the potential impact of Brexit weighs heavy on the mind of those tasked with workforce planning and management.

Is now the time to optimise shift patterns?

Many of the discussions we had around Brexit at the Food and Drink IT Summit focused on the need to increasing workforce flexibility…and quickly.

Manufacturers with legacy approaches and tools for organising and managing Working Time we spoke to felt exposed.

A common theme was agility and the need to respond rapidly to external factors which could influence both labour supply and demand.

The presentation we gave at the event focused on the wide variety of shift pattern design options that are available to food and drink manufacturers looking to control costs, increase flexibility, improve productivity and support recruitment and retention.

We also spoke with delegates around using shift pattern planning software to scenario plan.

Many customers are using the advanced capabilities of our WORKSuite® software to model, simulate and understand the impact on labour supply and demand of a variety of Brexit outcomes.

From this they can create contingency resourcing frameworks which can be deployed quickly to manage or mitigate negative effects or to seize opportunities when they present themselves.

It’s clear that for many organisations, persisting with an inefficient approach to resourcing poses a serious risk.

If you'd like to find out more about modernising working patterns, you can contact us to arrange a free one-to-one consultation with one of our experts.  

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