East Midlands food and drink firms interested in taking on a graduate could be in line for a grant to help with recruitment.

Regional business support organisation The Food and Drink Forum has teamed up with East Midlands graduate recruitment service HotProspects to run a two-year project aimed at boosting skills in the sector.

Up to £500 is available to small and medium-sized food and drink firms recruiting graduates, either for specific projects or for permanent placements.

“Hiring a graduate can create a number of benefits for a firm, such as introducing new skills to the business or giving a fresh perspective on something,” said Fiona Anderson, managing director of the Food and Drink Forum, a membership organisation which supports food and drink firms across Derbyshire, Lincolnshire, Nottinghamshire, Leicestershire, Northamptonshire and Rutland.

“But it can be a big step for a small or medium-sized food or drink business to take on a graduate, so this scheme will help pay to find the ideal candidates. Ultimately we hope that it will both improve the skills in the sector and the businesses of food and drink companies in the East Midlands.”

The two organisations will work together to help place suitable graduates with companies interested in taking part in the scheme. Grants are available to firms looking to hire a graduate for a temporary project, which offers the chance to employ a graduate for a specific purpose, such as helping to set up a website or researching a new way of working.

They are also available to help pay for recruitment of a recent graduate or graduate with over one year’s relevant experience to work full-time for a company.

Money for the scheme has come from East Midlands Development Agency (emda) and is designed to increase productivity in small and medium-sized businesses in the region’s food and drink sector.

Launched in June 2006, HotProspects represents thousands of the highest calibre graduates, with a range of degrees. It has placed more than 600 graduates and has nearly 900 small and medium-sized enterprises registered on www.hotprospects.org.uk.

“This is the time of year for firms to be considering what skills their businesses will need this autumn and winter,” said Elizabeth Wilson, from HotProspects. “Graduates and post-graduates who want to work in the food and drink sector have recently left their universities, and we have a pool of talent waiting to move on and put their skills to good use.”

Food and drink firms keen to find out more should contact The Food and Drink Forum on 0115 9758810.