NTU meets industry standards with apprenticeships

By Gwen Ridler

- Last updated on GMT

Poulson: ‘There is an inaccurate image of what the food and drink industry is about’
Poulson: ‘There is an inaccurate image of what the food and drink industry is about’
Creating strong ties with the industry is a key component to food and drink apprenticeships, explains Sara Poulson, subject leader for food and horticultural sciences at Nottingham Trent University (NTU).

Key points 

The standards for the university’s food technology apprenticeships were drawn up in close collaboration with employer groups, sparked by the UK Government’s introduction of the Apprenticeship Levy in April 2017.

“When the Government introduced the Levy a few years ago, the idea was that the apprenticeships would be developed and led for the employers, by the employers – rather than by universities and other training providers – so they got what they needed from employees at the end of the apprenticeship,”​ says Poulson.

She describes NTU’s relationship with the food and drink industry as a partnership, with the apprenticeships creating not just a strong link between NTU and its pupils, but with employers as well.

The university now runs two food industry apprenticeship programmes, the Level 3 Food Technology Apprenticeship and the Level 6 Food Industry Technical Professional Degree apprenticeship.

Two apprenticeship programmes (Back to top)

“The Food Technology Apprenticeship is aimed at people with A-Levels and is being used by the industry as a means of upskilling current members of staff,”​ Poulson explains. “The employer will take on the apprentice, or they will identify someone in the workplace whom they want to upskill – so they see a career progression for that individual.”

“We deliver a Level 3 diploma in Food Technology over a period of two years, with the students coming to us on block release to study. At the same time they are getting training in the workplace.”

NTU’s Level 6 course combines an apprenticeship with a BSc in Food Science and Technology, adds Poulson.

“We launched this in September and we have around 50 apprentices on that programme from about 20 different companies with which we’ve engaged and entered into a partnership,”​ says Poulson. “We develop those individuals over a four-year period of the BSc element of the course in 14 one-week-long blocks.”

The university is continuing to build its relationship with the food and drink industry and is keen to branch out from food technology, Poulson explains. The idea is to offer a broad range of expertise from across the industry to students.

While the university has delivered food technology courses for “donkey’s years”,​ collaboration with industry was born from the apprenticeship training courses. This, in turn, has changed the way the courses have been delivered.

Collaboration with industry (Back to top)

Nottingham Trent University

Courses on offer:​ Level 3 Food Technology apprenticeship and Level 6 BSc Food Technology degree apprenticeship
Student capacity:​ 50 students on the BSc apprenticeship course and 24 on the Level 3 course, with scope to increase these numbers as the university expands its facilities.
Plans for the university:​ “This September we are launching a more traditional full time BSc in food science and technology, the content of which will mirror that in the apprenticeship version,”​ says Sara Poulson. “At the end of the second year, those students will be found placements in the industry.
“We are geared towards ensuring our students have the right kind of employability skills when they graduate, so getting them work experience is very important for their development.”

“We have had to change our mode of delivery,”​ adds Poulson. “The food industry, especially the big companies, tend to have sites all over the country and it’s not easy logistically to free up staff to come to us for one day a week or on a full-time basis.

“So we’ve developed the block release mode of delivery in response to what the food industry asked of us – and it works well. It’s quite intensive for the students when they’re here, but it’s the way forward.”

Choosing this delivery method allows the apprentices to “earn while they learn”,​ while simultaneously growing within the company with which they are apprenticed. “The employers get the opportunity to grow their own talent. What we tend to find is the students become incredibly loyal to their companies. If you were to cut them open, you would find the company brand down the middle like a stick of rock.”

The Apprenticeship Levy has been a point of contention among some food and drinks manufacturers since its introduction in 2017. While some have seen it as a burden on their businesses, Poulson only sees an opportunity to drive new talent into the industry.

The Levy can be a tool for attracting more school-leavers towards a career in food and drink, she claims. “One of the issues the industry has had is recruiting new young talent,”​ she says. “For whatever reason – especially in schools – there is an inaccurate image of what the food and drink industry is about and there is little understanding of the huge variety of career paths for young people within food.

“With the Apprenticeship Levy, youngsters coming out of school can see that they are going to get a fantastic experience at work and come out with a degree, with no fees. Also, their eyes are going to open up to this huge fantastic industry. It’s a win all around.”

Attracting more women to roles (Back to top)

Another positive, says Poulson, is that women have become more and more attracted to roles within food and drink. “More than 50% of our students are women,”​ she says. “And of the young recruits – 18-year-olds with A levels – that we took last year, at least 75% of them are female.”

NTU students have also gained recognition within the food and drink community over the past two years, having two successful showings at the young food technologist competition, Ecotrophelia.

In 2016, a team of students from the university competed in the finals of Ecotrophelia in France, after winning the UK leg of the competition. Last year, another team from the university came second in the UK qualifiers for the competition, a feat that cemented the students’ skill and bolstered their confidence.

“To use a horrible cliché, it’s not the winning, but the taking part that counts,”​ says Poulson. “The process the students have to go through, just to get to the point of entering the competition, pulls together the knowledge and skills they’ve learned over the course, but also other transferable skills.

“If they are fortunate enough to get through to the UK final, they then have to hone their presentation skills in front of senior people in the food and drink industry. To have that kind of experience really speaks for itself – and winning is the icing on the cake.”

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