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Major change drivers within the Food and Beverages Manufacturing sector, including the Fourth Industrial Revolution (4IR), health and safety, climate change, the adoption of innovative practices in food processing, health and nutrition, and the COVID-19 pandemic have loudened the call not only for new health and safety protocols within the sector, but a substantial rise in awareness and a massive shift in behavioural changes among those working within the sector.
Furthermore, along with disrupted supply chains and declining markets, the Disaster Management Act, 57 of 2002 declared agriculture and food supply as essential services during Covid-19 which required the entire food value chain - from farm-related operations, agro-processing and food manufacturing, logistics and related services, wholesale and retail services, and all support functions - to be functional to ensure access to sufficient, safe and nutritious food.
Placing additional strain on the need for new health and safety protocols, and the need for awareness and behavioural changes, the South African COVID-19 Risk Adjusted Strategy stated that, during the pandemic, the production, processing, packaging and distribution of food must adhere to new COVID-19 health and safety protocols - from social distancing, sanitization and hygiene, to the use of appropriate personal protective equipment, like cloth face masks - as determined by the National Department of Health.
Health and safety within the Food and Beverages Manufacturing Sector has thus transformed the way people produce and deliver food. With this, education, training and development needs to be enforced to assist those working within this sector to recognise and control heightened risks and hazards associated with food production, consumption and contamination, and to address pressing challenges which revolve around food safety and health.
According to the World Health Organisation, South Africa possesses three major food safety concerns which include foodborne diseases, food fraud and a lack of regulatory enforcement - all of which contribute to the creation of a high-risk environment. Add the possible transmission of the COVID-19 virus into these locations and facilities where food is produced, processed, packaged and sold and new awareness of health and safety, as well as the training of food handling safety requirements, must be considered and implemented.
Businesses, business owners and staff members within this sector need to adapt quickly to operate in such uncertain, volatile and complex environments. Further to this, business owners need to invest in the training and education of staff with regards to these high-risk environments, food safety, food quality and hygiene, and anticipate it being a long-term investment. Business owners also need to consider training and development going beyond a short-term course or programme. Basic hygiene and preventative measures are not enough to ensure health and safety in these times and therefore need to be strengthened by staff member’s individual desire to learn more and become more knowledgeable in their role - and with this have the opportunity to do so.
New broadened awareness of health and safety and new skills acquired will then be brought back to the home, with staff members taking their new skills and awareness to individuals in their personal lives and, with this, helping to mitigate the spread of COVID-19 and other hazardous diseases and risks.
Adding to this, an increase in awareness and increased skills, as well as innate desire to constantly seek new knowledge and the application thereof, will inspire those working within the industry to move up the employee ladder or further establish new small companies within the industry - a critical component of the Food and Beverages Manufacturing sector. The focus now veers to significantly smaller companies and medium-sized companies, as well as entrepreneurs - and the skills development thereof.
For these smaller companies and medium-sized companies to overcome current and future challenges, they need to leverage the opportunities and the rapid adoption of food technologies and digitization, transform skill delivery mechanisms and place digital and online training at the forefront. A workforce that has advanced technical knowledge, an understanding of digital supply chains, relationship management and digital skills is crucial in current COVID-19 times.
The COVID-19 pandemic and major change drivers has certainly paved the way for SMMEs and large companies within the Food and Beverages Manufacturing sector to adjust their training policies and priorities to align skills, a heightened awareness, the transformation of behavioural changes and a new desire for long-term knowledge acquisition to mitigate the impact of the global pandemic and the negative ripple effects caused by these major change drivers within the sector.