Investing in young talent paying off for My Fish Company

Published on
May 10, 2019

United Kingdom supplier My Fish Company has quickly found its niche in the seafood market. Fulfilling the role of a local, independent provider of high-quality British and overseas products to the foodservice and retail sectors in the northwest, the Fleetwood-based business has grown quickly in the three and a half years that it has been trading.

In tandem with the rapid expansion of its customer base – some 350 businesses yielding a turnover of GBP 8.4 million (USD 10.8 million, EUR 9.7 million) – My Fish Company has been able to grow its workforce, providing gainful employment to 50 staff in a region that has struggled in recent decades. Perhaps most crucial of all, and something that’s of particular importance to founder and company director Gary Apps, is the success it’s having in bringing new blood into the industry.

It has been well documented that when it comes to attracting fresh talent, fish processing – especially in the United Kingdom – has long been falling short of the mark, with negative perceptions of the sector and the work involved contributing to a shortage of suitable newcomers and potential candidates. However, by incorporating new, appealing technologies and ways of working, My Fish Company has bucked this trend. 

“Importantly for Fleetwood – a historic fishing town – we are trying to reinvigorate what’s become a dying trade on our doorstep. The knowledge, experience and skill that some of the guys have who have been doing this for a long time is quite incredible. But in general, this industry is not attracting the next generation of fish professionals, and for me, that is a big problem. That’s why we are looking to create a modern skill-base to keep this craft alive,” Apps said. “Much of our workforce and the people that we have taken on so far are relatively young in terms of their experience of life, but they are very keen to learn and progress.”

In addition to supporting all staff to “upskill and develop” through an internal skills-based matrix, as well as external learning courses, My Fish Company has created an environment conducive to nurturing new talent. As a result, the firm has built a team of 18- to 30-plus year-old employees with strong skill sets and who are keen to develop themselves further, said Apps. 

“We believe that this way, we can really start to entice new blood into the industry,” he said. “We've also looked at the start times too. There’s 24 hours on the clock, so to engage newer, younger people, we have to provide more sociable hours, allowing them to start at 5, 6 or 7 o’clock.”

Flexibility, and trying new methods in the workplace, have been a big part of Apps’ overall strategy in retaining younger workers. 

“I believe that we can either be bloody-minded about things and say ‘this is the way it’s always been,’ and carry on not bringing new people in to the industry, or we can do something about it,” he said. 

Apps also hopes to include virtual reality tools as part of the knowledge and sharing and skill building processes.

“They are using VR [virtual reality] to instruct the surgeons of tomorrow, so why not fish?” he said. “Also, imagine providing the opportunity to fillet fish in a virtual world – what an amazing concept and asset that would be to the industry; introducing younger generations to the sector at career roadshows, colleges etc.”

Apps told SeafoodSource that he would also like to work with local agencies tackling knife crime, and that it could be within the power of the broader seafood industry to play a very meaningful role in addressing such an important social issue.

“I think we could potentially be part of the rehabilitation journey for those people that have either been caught offending or carrying weapons,” he said.  “We’re in a position where we can show them that rather than being a weapon, knives are important tools and can be the means to a valuable skill and career.”

In the meantime, the company is collaborating with a local enterprise striving to put people back into work after enduring various hardships. It is also contributing to the work of community campaign Healthier Fleetwood, which tries to educate schoolchildren about healthier food choices. 

“We are very much looking at the immediate, local vicinity. This is quite a deprived area, but we have created dozens of jobs in the past three and a half years with very little authority support,” Apps said. “We definitely have the ambition and appetite to build a nice, solid business that supports, props up and gives back to the local community. We are though just one humble player in the northwest and so I would dearly love to see more industry stakeholders and established businesses get onboard with some of the initiatives we’re trying to develop here, and to also help to roll them out on a much larger scale while we still all have the opportunity.”

Much of My Fish Company’s commercial success can be attributed to the emphasis that it puts on providing “a personal touch,” said Apps. “We are in a really interesting product space, and by demonstrating our expertise and the passion that we have, we’re connecting some of the fragmented dots that exist around some of the businesses in this region We are putting our customers more in touch with the products, and more in touch with where they’re coming from.” 

The company’s growth plans have been further boosted through a GBP 250,000 (USD 322,850, EUR 289,460) commercial loan that will allow it to purchase its existing premises, invest in additional software and create a further 10 jobs.

Some of the money will go towards making the business “a bit more smarter,” explains Apps. Central to this initiative is the digitization of the production process and the creation of a more traceable, quality management system. This will also incorporate sales and finance elements and functions to help the company understand where further efficiencies can be made.

“We can’t talk about building a business and taking it forward unless we try to evolve; make sure it isn’t stuck in the old ways,” he said.  “If we are going to bring more youngsters in, then let’s get digital – let’s use things that they are used to day-in-day-out rather than old, archaic equipment and practices.” 

Photo courtesy of My Fish Company. 

Contributing Editor reporting from London, UK

 Twitter at @SeafoodGuruSome

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