Where are they now? Three years later with Weetabix apprentice

By Gwen Ridler

- Last updated on GMT

We catch up with FMEA finalist and former Weetabix apprentice James Bell
We catch up with FMEA finalist and former Weetabix apprentice James Bell

Related tags Apprenticeship Cereal

Back in 2019, Food Manufacture spoke with Weetabix manufacturing apprentice James Bell to discuss his journey with the business. Three years later, we catch up with Bell to discuss his role in the company and how the pandemic has affected apprenticeships.

“Since my article in 2019, the world has changed a lot and so has my role at Weetabix,”​ Bell explained. “I was coming to the end of my manufacturing apprenticeship and was fulfilling a role as a maintenance planner for one of our Weetabix factories. However, like many businesses, we have adapted and with that came a change to my role.

“I am still a maintenance planner; however I now manage this for all three of our Weetabix biscuit factories. These changes have brought about some amazing challenges and learnings, which I will take with me throughout my career.”

Bell’s role now involves more than just maintenance planning and he plays a key part in the day-to-day running and decision making, managing people and acting as a deputy for the engineering manager.

Food Manufacture Excellence Awards

“This has been a great step for my career and with the success of these changes I have been recognised by the business and am a finalist of the ‘Future Talent of the Year’ category at the Food Manufacture Excellence Awards, which take place next month,”​ he continued. “This has all been possible because of the opportunities and belief Weetabix has shown and given to me.”

For a run-down of all 44 finalists for the 2022 Food Manufacture Excellence Awards, which are now taking place on 17 March at the Hilton London Bankside hotel, visit the awards website​. Book your tickets now!

When asked if he would have done anything different during his time with Weetabix, Bell said he wouldn’t change a thing. Not that his time with the company was a smooth ride, but that the challenges along the way helped develop his knowledge and ‘know how’.

“I have been part of our business improvement journey, and it’s been a great experience to go through this so early on in my career,” Bell added. “You really get to see the challenges that change brings, even change for the better. We are now starting to see the opportunities which we set out to achieve, which is brilliant.

“The advice I would give to a younger me is to not be afraid of not knowing. When I first moved into my role within the engineering department, it was very daunting due to me having a manufacturing background at that point.

Confidence boost

“However, through pushing myself and showing eagerness to learn, I have grown into my role, which has later been critical for the structure change to work. This has given me the confidence to have a ‘can do’ attitude in everything I do.”

The global COVID-19 pandemic has been a major influence on everyone’s day-to-day lives over the past two years and the food and drink industry has been no exception. The lockdowns initiated in response have also had a damaging effect on education, with reports of apprentices unable to visit the factories they are training at due to fears of spreading infections.

However, Bell chose to be optimistic and proactive – Despite the difficulties, he managed to finish his foundation degree in operations management.

“Through lockdown I was able to dedicate my time to my development and come out of it with a qualification, meaning that my time wasn’t wasted at all,”​ he concluded.

Apprenticeships in a pandemic

“Outside of my own sphere the pandemic has affected many apprenticeships, especially with skills/trades which can’t be learned through distant learning, however I am hopeful, with the rest of the world, that we are at the end of COVID and can start to return to a normal world, whatever that looks like now!”

Weetabix is now on the hunt for six apprentices to join it 1,000 strong workforce in its factories across Northamptonshire – two opening for manufacturing apprentices to start in August, and four engineering apprenticeships to join at the same time.

Stuart Branch, chief people and digital officer at Weetabix Food Company said: “We kicked off our Apprenticeship scheme in 2016 and it’s been a real success story so far. Completing an apprenticeship at Weetabix is a great start to a young person’s career - it gives them access to a variety of activities that help to improve their knowledge and skills, and also gives them the opportunity to meet great people.

“We’re incredibly proud to see our apprentices progress their careers in a variety of roles across the business, including Business Improvement, New Product Development, Manufacturing, Supply Chain and Engineering. The Weetabix apprenticeship programme is now being recognised throughout the manufacturing sector, with many of our apprentices being nominated for and reaching the finals of national awards.”

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