Ruby Powel at Adrian Scripps

MDS graduate trainee Ruby Powel works at topfruit grower Adrian Scripps

Agrifood graduate training organisation MDS has reported “unprecedented” demand from graduates as well as new member companies over the past 12 months.

Its chair, the former groceries Code Adjudicator Christine Tacon, said she expects to see no levelling off in interest from companies looking to invest in developing graduate talent, nor in young people seeking a long-term future in the sector.

“I also predict that changes forced by Brexit will bring further opportunity for MDS and our members,” she said. “We are seeing signs that an increased number of modern facilities in Eastern Europe want UK-trained management.

“Some talented, skilled younger people have returned home to their countries of origin and this has resulted in a renewed interest amongst employers for nurturing homegrown future leaders.”

She said the upsurge in demand, coupled with the Covid-related reduction in normal expenditure on accommodation and travel during 2020, has given MDS the scope to bring some planned expansion investments forward.

“Our board has made the decision to invest in systems and personnel to prepare us for a doubling in graduate applications and secondment placements with member companies, and also a continuing rise in the number of member companies,” she said. “We have, therefore, invested in software and hardware upgrades, as well as our digital and communications capabilities.”

The MDS programme spans two years, with each graduate trainee undertaking four different six-month secondments in a wide range of roles and member companies.

MDS currently has 66 graduates on the scheme – its highest number since the organisation was founded by three growers in 1986. In the past year it has increased its member companies from 48 to 58 businesses in the agrifood and fresh produce sector.

“The food sector is now being recognised as a secure and diverse sector, and one that ensures secure, long-term employment for young graduates,” she said. “This has resulted in 2020 being our busiest year for graduate applications with a richly diverse range of degrees.”

She added that MDS has built a “strong reputation” for delivering high quality graduate training and a two-year secondment programme that produces “highly skilled and adaptable middle management employees”.

“The confidence member companies have gained in our ability to deliver what the sector needs has resulted in a marked rise in many replacing their own company-run graduate training schemes with participation in MDS’s programme,” she said.

MDSprovides graduate training across the whole supply chain of vegetables, salads, fruit, flowers, plants, arable and prepared food products not only based in the UK but also for operations in many countries around the world.