Over 65% of businesses in the hospitality, foodservice, manufacturing and retail sectors say skills gaps are affecting their bottom line.

The information was revealed in a recent by IFEX, NI’s largest hospitality and foodservice trade event, which was carried out to inform planning and feature requirements ahead of the next IFEX event – taking place from the 5-7 March 2024. 

Respondents highlighted that the second biggest challenge to their business was staff and skills shortages, ranking just behind rising overhead costs, with 75% agreeing that apprenticeships and skills development are essential for the future of the foodservice, hospitality, and retail industries.

The survey also revealed that slightly more than half (54%) of employers had supported skills development with over 30% of businesses currently running an apprenticeship programme.

Addressing the skills gap will be one of the main features of the three-day show which returns to the Titanic Exhibition Centre, Belfast in March 2024.

Commenting on the show’s return, Toby Wand, Managing Director of 365 Events, organisers of IFEX said: “We’re thrilled to announce the return of IFEX to Belfast, an event that’s historically supported the growth of the hospitality and foodservice sectors across Northern Ireland. 

“Northern Ireland is renowned for its hospitality offering, and IFEX plays such a pivotal role in the development of skills, with many of Northern Ireland’s top chefs having been recognised at IFEX over the years. Based on our research and listening to the industry, this year, we are now investing further in the development of IFEX, increasing the show’s footprint by 40% with an addition of another hall. This is where we plan to house our ‘Skills Hub’ and create a three-day actioned packed competition area championing bakers, butchers and baristas.”

IFEX will house all of the ingredients that have made the show a success for many years. Confirmed show attractions include Salon Culinaire Belfast, which comprises of the ChefSkills Theatre, Great Taste Market and new for 2024, the NI Skills Hub, Spotlight Stage and the IFEX Master’s Arena.

Predicting a strong event in 2024, Toby adds: “In 2022, there was a huge buzz around IFEX, with exhibitors reporting a real upturn in business and an increase in visitor numbers, so we’ve high hopes for 2024. Post show research revealed that exhibitors expected to generate over £40,000 in total from visitors they saw at IFEX 2022 – 21% increase vs. 2018 research, with exhibitor satisfaction from 2022 averaging at 8.5 out of 10.

“A larger show, coupled with new features, excellent exhibitors and attractions that encourage and reward talent within the hospitality sector, will make IFEX the home of innovation for hospitality and retail from the 5th – 7th March next year.”

IFEX returns with industry support from leading bodies including Retail NI, Hospitality Ulster, NI Hotels Federation and NI Takeaway Association. Almost 20% of confirmed exhibitors at next year’s IFEX will be exhibiting for the first time, painting an encouraging picture of growing market confidence. They will sit alongside big-name players, including Henderson Foodservice, Hugh Jordan, Cater 2, Unox, Kepak and Golden Glen, all pledging their support for this year’s show. 

For further information, visit www.IFEXexhibition.co.uk and @IFEX_NI on social.