Apprenticeships for new and existing employees can help to create a talent pipeline, a crucial asset for any integrated supply chain business.
That was the message from Joanne Collins, human resources business partner at Pilgrim’s UK.
She said Pilgrim’s UK had offered a number of apprenticeship schemes across the business for more than 15 years, including data analysis, project management, accountancy and finance, supply chain and management development within their agricultural division.
Joanne said: “We currently have more than 100 people actively taking apprenticeships at the moment, from pure apprenticeship roles to those already in the business looking to upskill.
“The schemes vary in length, depending on the level and the ability of the learner, with support put in place, including a mentor, to help with the transition from being in a classroom to having an apprenticeship and adapting to the responsibilities of being an employee.
“With our maintenance and engineering apprenticeships, we have partnered with local colleges and held residential learning courses to create more of a modular structure to that learning journey.
“We also transfer up to 25 per cent of the levy to external business partners, such as farmers, who can use it to offer apprenticeships to young people working on their farms.
“It is important our staff continue to develop and achieve and we will do all we can to support them through their learning journeys, which helps to achieve our 85 per cent retention rate.”
In light of the ongoing labour crisis, the firm has recently appointment Konrad Pacholski as head of butchery development to design a butchers academy and implement an butchery apprenticeship programme for the business, and is recruiting an heavy goods vehicle apprentice to join its Halesworth depot.
The firm has also worked with Harper Adams University, offering students scholarships for the past 13 years, as well as industrial placements for more than 30 years, and reaches out to schools and colleges to inform young people about career opportunities within industry.
Oliver Havers, whose family farms in Suffolk, went on work experience with BQP at Stradbroke, Pilgrim’s UK agricultural division site in 2017, before studying an advanced technical diploma in agriculture at Easton College, Norfolk.
But after deciding he did not want to be in full-time education a year later, he embarked on a two-year level-four apprenticeship in business management in the land-based sector with Pilgrim’s UK.
Oliver said: “The apprenticeship was quite finance-based and I completed it in about 15 months. I was supported with the written part of the application process by the firm, which then gave me time within the working week to complete the apprenticeship alongside my physical role.”
He added the business has subsequently sponsored his five-year Open University degree in business management, which he is studying while working as a grower fields person.
He said: "They keep offering me opportunities to progress and I am looking forward to supervising a new starter within the team to develop my leadership skills.”
Highlighting that Oliver’s practical work was dovetailed to reflect his studies, Joanne said: “We tailored his apprenticeship to make sure it met Oliver’s needs and he got the most benefit out of it.
She also felt apprenticeships served as a useful tool to retain staff, keeping them in a safe learning environment and helping them reach their full potential.
She said: “From a careers perspective, the food industry does not have a good reputation. Working in a factory or on a farm is often seen as a career which lacks opportunity for progression.
“But that is far from the truth and we are working at breaking down these barriers by using young people who have had positive experiences working in the sector to be ambassadors for the future.”
Oliver agreed that people often educationally driven were put off a career in the food supply chain, seeing it as a ‘downward step’.
He said: “It can be seen as a traditional industry, but there are lots of opportunities within the sector and I think people would have a better understanding of society if they saw how the food supply chain worked.”
For those interested in applying for an apprenticeship, experience or a farming background is not often a requirement, but a real commitment to working hard and being a self-starter can be beneficial, Joanne said.