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Cooking up the next generation of food manufacturers

25 September 2014

Founded over 20 years ago, Bakkavor is now recognised as a leading fresh food provider in the UK’s food industry. It manufactures over 5,000 fresh prepared food products for Britain’s major retailers and employs over 16,000 people, with a further 2,000 working within the Group’s international operations in Asia, Europe and the United States.  

Maintaining its market leading position is a core focus for the business and to do so, it must continue to attract a new younger generation to join its ranks and create the food that consumers want.  To create opportunities for young people to join the industry, it runs two successful youth employment schemes.

The Accelerated Management Scheme (AMS) provides a two-year fast track route for graduates and existing employees into senior level management. The scheme has been running since 1999 and has employed more than 220 young people. 

The Advanced Apprenticeship Scheme is a two-year course for school leavers, enabling those starting out in a new career to gain qualifications and experience in the fast-moving food manufacturing environment. It launched its first scheme in 2012 with 15 apprentices and, as evidence of the scheme’s success, every apprentice completed their programme and were subsequently offered full-time roles within Bakkavor.

The Apprenticeship Scheme has five programmes which are focused on five different areas of the business – Administration, Development, Engineering, Manufacturing and Technical. Applicants must have a minimum of a Grade C GCSE in Maths and English (plus science if applying for Engineering or Technical) or an equivalent qualification. All the programmes are specifically designed to combine employment, work-based training and on-the-job learning to provide exposure to different product categories and aspects of the business. The apprentices are given real responsibilities, contributing to key business activities and projects, supported by a buddy, mentor and line manager. In addition, everyone receives development training and support in working towards a number of nationally recognised qualifications. 

Owen Lilley, 24, works at one the business’s sites in Spalding and found that the scheme enabled him to focus on his career and see a longer term career path in the food industry. “I left school at 16 and have always been interested in nutrition as I’m very sporty. I wanted to work somewhere that gave me the opportunity to combine this love of nutrition with a proper career and development path.

“The scheme Bakkavor offered appealed as I could get to learn about the diversity of food and the important role of the food industry in the UK. I was really pleased to be accepted onto the scheme.

“As a development apprentice, I’ve got a very diverse job. All of the apprentices are assigned to various retailer accounts and we’re expected to learn about our particular products as well as the wider market. This means that we need to spend time online and in supermarkets learning about all the varieties available and the strength of competition between different ranges. As well as working in the development kitchen, where we do our product sampling, there’s a much broader range of skills we’re taught, such as idea generation, packaging concepts, market comparisons, recipe costings and creation. The best bit of the job to me is when I can get stuck into a new product brief for the roll-out of a new range. We get guidance from our mentors and line managers, but we’re still given a lot of freedom to come up with our own ideas and creations. This responsibility is exciting and rewarding for me. 

“The most challenging part of my job is the need to keep on improving my food knowledge.  I’m more used to cooking for myself than other people so it takes time to learn about the more unusual ingredient combinations and all the different cuisines. 

“I’d definitely encourage people to do what I’ve done and look into food apprenticeships. People don’t appreciate how big the food industry is and what massive opportunities there are to explore something that you’re passionate about. There are always new products that need developing and new things to learn.

“In terms of the next steps, I’d like to keep on working in development with Bakkavor and hopefully one day, I’d love to have a role that combines product development and my passion for nutrition.”

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