Over the past months, Carol Rogers our Apprenticeships Manager has been talking to apprentices at Avara Foods – an employer who has invested heavily in apprenticeships and are currently working with Harper Adams University to deliver degree apprenticeships across food manufacturing. The company currently have 14 apprentices undertaking 5-year integrated degree apprenticeships in Food and Drink Advanced Engineer and Food Industry Technical Professional. They are recruiting more this year.
I spoke with 3 apprentices; Ethan Aldous and Lucy Watts, who are both in Quality Assurance roles at the Brackley site and Niamh Finlayson, who is a quality assurer at the Hereford site. All of them are completing the Food Industry Technical Professional Apprenticeship. Ethan has almost completed his third year, Lucy and Niamh have almost completed their first year.
Avara Foods is one of the largest food production companies in the UK, employing 7,000 people across the country. The business supply chicken and turkey products to restaurants and supermarkets and is a fully integrated business. This means they have control of their products through managing the farms through to production and logistics. The company work with 350 farms in the UK; all of their central functions and production facilities mean they have a diverse range of job roles across the business. Avara foods invest in new technologies, however their employees are at the heart of what they do with many opportunities to progress within the business and develop skills through the apprenticeship programme, or internal training.
All of the apprentices had some experience within the food industry before starting their apprenticeship and had chosen this route as they were passionate about the food manufacturing industry and wanted to pursue a career. They had all considered full time university but felt that the degree apprenticeship was the best route for them, as it provides the added opportunity to gain work experience alongside gaining an academic qualification. They feel that the apprenticeship route allows them to explore different options for their career within Avara Foods, as apprentices are able to see other parts of the business through work placements, which allows them to see the full scope of what the qualification can lead to. Avara Foods are keen to develop their staff and have a clear succession plan in place, which allows staff to look at different aspects of the business and move into areas that fit their interest and talent.
A requirement of the apprenticeship is to complete 20% off the job training; the work placements and block release at university count towards this, but apprentices also need to set aside time to complete assignments, research and self-study. This means they need to manage their time effectively at work to complete their daily tasks and their work for university. It can be easy to get caught up in what is happening in the workplace; Niamh said she has learnt to ask for help! When she first started her role, she wanted to get involved with everything! Her manager has been very supportive and understands that Niamh has different priorities. He will make sure that Niamh has the time to complete her studies. She said “ultimately it is my journey and it’s up to me to make the most of it” Ethan said that “being flexible with the 20% off the job training – there can be times when projects at work take priority but Avara are very supportive and make sure I have the time”
I asked the apprentices to tell me about what they felt were benefits of an apprenticeship, rather than full time university. They all felt that although it takes longer to complete, the exposure to different parts of the industry through placements give them clarity about next steps in their career. It also gave them invaluable work experience that you would not gain through full time university. Working within the industry allows you to keep up to date with new developments and technologies and keep up to date with new innovations. The apprenticeship has 4 week-long teaching blocks each year and during this time, the apprentices are able to network with colleagues from other companies. This can provide a broad knowledge of the food industry and allows an insight into other manufacturing processes for different food and drink products. The apprentices also undertake work-based projects throughout their programme to give them a deeper understanding of the workplace.
When asked what advice they would give anyone considering the apprenticeship programme, Lucy said “you need to have a proper think – it is a big commitment but it can allow you to look at options that are available to you within the food industry”
Niamh said “it’s not just about getting a free degree, you need to know what you want and understand what is involved, take a leap of faith!”
Lucy felt that it was good to see that work experience is considered alongside formal qualifications when applying for the course. She finished school and went to college, however soon felt it was not for her. She got a job in a local food manufacturing company, who expanded from a small business to supplying products to Sainsbury’s. Although Lucy did not have A Levels, her previous experience in the industry meant she was accepted on to the degree apprenticeship programme.
If you would like to know more about the degree apprenticeships available through Harper Adams University, get in touch with the apprenticeships team: email@example.com