MDS Trainee Programme

Ex-forces and career changers are being targeted in a new programme to skill up the fresh produce sector.

Kickstarted by a £450,000 government grant for flexi-apprenticeships, food supply chain training provider MDS is using the funding to create a training programme for non-graduates and triple the number of its secondments in the sector.

MDS, which collaborates with over 60 food and fresh produce businesses across the UK to run its Leadership & Management training scheme for degree graduates, will be introducing an Operations & Development scheme tailored to non-graduates already in the workplace.

The existing Leadership & Management training scheme will also be opened up to military service leavers with leadership experience.

MDS chief operating officer Sapphira Waterson, who has a longstanding connection with the armed forces through her work with the charity SSAFA, said: “This funding is an exciting and long-planned step for MDS to expand our popular leadership training and attract others on a different work ladder with diverse perspectives and skill sets into our sector.

“Giving ex-military personnel a route into the sector has been a passion of mine for both the opportunity it gives food supply chain businesses and those leaving the forces to develop a compelling career. As team players with a bias for decision making and completing tasks, ex-service personnel are a perfect fit for our fast-paced sector, and in turn it is a route for them to continue to develop professionally and personally when they leave the military.

“Equally it offers exciting new challenges for others in the workplace who don’t have a degree but have a drive and interest to develop their careers. They may have come from retail, healthcare or hospitality, or are returning to work after a break.

“I would urge all food supply chain businesses to reassess how they can maximise on this and benefit from strengthening their operations with high calibre trainees at different levels, from shop floor to management.”

Fresh produce industry call

In order for the programme to reach its full potential, MDS is calling on fresh food and food supply businesses to look at the opportunity in their own businesses to bring new talent in. MDS is looking to nearly triple the number of training placements, from 78 to 220, available in food businesses.

The new Operations & Development scheme aims to fill roles at operational level. These are hands-on roles, that could start on a production line, but the trainees will have the aptitude and desire to move into more senior roles, for example packhouse manager. In total, there will now by 220 placements available every six months.

The government funding package was announced in March 2021 as part of Chancellor Rishi Sunak’s Budget, with the aim of tackling the national skills shortage by encouraging businesses to invest in their workforce.

The £451,078 funding will allow MDS to employ additional staff to recruit Operations and Development trainees, manage the new programme and pay for the apprenticeship training.