Fresh-produce companies are realising the potential for their businesses to link up with universities like never before. Produce Business UK catches up with a couple that are working with an institute in the fresh produce heartlands of Lincolnshire to find out what such partnerships can offer
Freshtime adopts individual approach
The Lincolnshire fresh prepared produce and chilled foods company is supporting one of its managers on a food manufacturing foundation degree by offering day-release to study with a view to rolling this initiative out to other managers. The firm is also putting eight other employees who perform various roles, from operational to technical, through a level 2 food- manufacturing diploma.
Freshtime managing director Mark Newton explains that the collaboration does not end there either. “We also work quite a lot with the university on HACCP and BRC staff training and also on level 2 and level 3 English language courses. The relationship with the University of Lincoln started two years ago but has really ramped up in the last year. It is part of our commitment to grow our own people and help them develop their career.”
Newton is firmly of the Richard Branson belief: Train people well enough so they can leave, treat them well enough so they don’t want to. “It is better to have good people in the business and we like to see them develop their skills and hope that by creating the right environment for them, they will stay,” he says.
Taking the degree route
Another firm looking to attract more skilled young people into the fresh produce arena through its links with the University of Lincoln is the Produce World Group. The company has just started searching for the first candidates to join its agri-food trainee scheme, which will see the conventional and organic vegetable grower-importer offering paid-for work experience and a university degree.
Students will study for a BSc Hons in Food Manufacture at the University of Lincoln at the Holbeach campus while also working for Produce World across all aspects of its business. Produce World already has a long-standing relationship with the university, which is very local to its operations.
“Not only that, but it’s nationally recognised as an excellent university for courses related to the food sector,” says Guy Thallon, group sustainability and research manager at the Produce World Group. “We’re looking to attract more skilled young people into the fresh produce industry, so we wanted to offer something very exciting that gives young people the opportunity to earn and learn. There is an image problem with the fresh produce industry for young people and what working in this industry entails, but we are determined to change this perception through this exciting new scheme.”
Clear aims and benefits
The aim for the scheme has been very clear; to provide the necessary academic and commercial skills coupled with valuable experience to excel in the sector. “Through the agri-food trainee scheme, we want to help young people gain a degree and learn vital commercial skills that will help them in their future career,” says Thallon. “At the same time we’re keen to attract degree-level candidates to the fresh produce industry.”
The Produce World scheme is annual and each year the company aims to take on a minimum of three candidates. “So in three years’ time there will be at least nine candidates across the Produce World Group’s operations,” says Thallon. “Our intention is to continue to grow these numbers and attract more and more young people to work for us and within the industry.”
To take part in the scheme, student candidates will need to have achieved three A-Levels (or BTEC equivalent) at grade C or above, and be able to invest between three and four-and-a-half years in completing the degree course at Holbeach alongside working at Produce World at its sites in Cambridgeshire and Lincolnshire. The students will therefore be required to live locally and have access to a car.
Thallon is clear about the benefits to Produce World: “We hope to gain passion and enthusiastic candidates that can provide fresh thinking on a number of issues and areas within the sector,” he says. “We’re keen to attract the stars of the future that can help shape our organisation and the fresh-produce industry.”
And of course one of the major benefits to the candidates themselves is that they will have no student debt at the end of the course.