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Food and drink apprentice shows age no barrier to learning

17 February 2010

Most people in their seventies probably never want to write exams again. But one 73-year-old recently registered as a Modern Apprentice and is studying for the first qualification of his life.

Ian Watson works with ANM Group, an Aberdeenshire-based food and drink group, which owns livestock auction marts, abattoirs, meat preparation factories and a contract catering business.

Watson works in the group’s auction marts and last year registered to take a Level 2 Modern Apprenticeship in Food Manufacture, specialising in livestock droving, making him the oldest apprentice in the country.

Watson works alongside other apprentices as part of a team in the busy auction mart where animal welfare, staff health and safety, and getting the job done quickly and accurately are all crucial. He has worked with cattle for more than 60 years, and his experience has proved invaluable to the younger apprentices.

“We must get along well because we never fall out when we’re working together,” he said. “Sharing your knowledge with the rest of the team is very important when you’re working here, particularly with regard to livestock handling.”

Despite his wealth of experience, Watson has felt the benefits of taking a Modern Apprenticeship already. “It is a more formal assessment of the work I have done for so long, and it has been useful to keep me abreast of new regulations and procedures for work,” he says.

Up until last year, funding for Watson to take a Modern Apprenticeship would not have been available in Scotland. Improve, the food and drink sector skills council, successfully lobbied the Scottish Government to remove the upper age limit on funding for apprentices, which previously stood at 19, and also won approval to introduce the country’s first Level Two Modern Apprenticeship, bringing it in line with the rest of the UK.

The results have been dramatic. More than 400 people have registered to take up a Modern Apprenticeship in Food Manufacture since last April, compared to just 20 in the previous 12 months. As well as encouraging more adults to take Modern Apprenticeships, the change has also been successful in attracting more women into training, with a quarter of registrations in the three months from November 2009 to January 2010 coming from females.

Improve Scotland manager, Kelvin Thomson, said: “Ian’s story is an inspiration to all those who are considering vocational training, but wonder what the benefit would be to them.

“Previously, the scope for Modern Apprenticeships was pretty narrow – they were only available for 16 to 19-year-olds. Opening this up has been vitally important for the food and drink industry because only five per cent of all workers in the industry are aged under 20, so only having funding available for that age group disqualifies the bulk of people from entering Modern Apprenticeships straight away.

“The age range for those currently registered as apprentices is from 16 to 73-years-old, showing just how adaptable Modern Apprenticeships in Food Manufacture are. They offer a flexible way for employees to gain qualifications while remaining productive at work. The benefits are well documented – Modern Apprenticeships are an excellent way of ensuring that companies are properly prepared for future growth.”

The ANM Group, which is owned by 7,500 farmer-shareholders and made-up of eight companies and 575 staff, has put several employees through the Modern Apprenticeship in Food Manufacture livestock droving pathway to help them comply with new animal welfare standards.

ANM Group training manager, Marilyn Paterson, said: “We believe that the right training – whatever age you are or position you hold within the company – is vital to ensuring that our staff develop professionally and the group continues to be productive. We also always look to ensure that we are compliant with legislation because not doing so can have a detrimental effect on the business.

“When we registered Ian for the Modern Apprenticeship, we only thought about the benefits to him and to the group as a whole. We are putting all the drovers who work in our auction houses through the training to ensure we are compliant with current and future legislation.”


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