Ruby Powel at Adrian Scripps

Ruby Powel has been working at Adrian Scripps

There has been a surge in demand for degree-level apprentices from fresh produce companies since the start of the pandemic.

That's according to graduate training scheme MDS, which says that despite, or perhaps because of, the pandemic, more fresh produce companies have joined as membersto access the programme, and 50 per cent more graduates were placed inthe autumn than the same time last year.

Since March,10new companieshave joined MDS, including Adrian Scripps,ProduceInvestmentsandTheEthical Fruit Company, taking its total membership to58, and 23new graduates were placed in October for a six-month secondment, compared to 15at the same time last year.

MDS’two-year graduate training involves four six-month secondments, supported bymentoring andintensive personal and management development sessionsfor traineeswith the MDS team. Thereiscurrently a total of 66trainees placed in member companies, the highestnumber of secondments to date.

James  Simpson, managing director of Kent-based  fruit grower and packer  Adrian Scripps, hasrecentlyrecruited his first MDS graduate trainee.As a business,he saidthey are finding it increasinglychallengingto recruitthe calibre they need, and hadconsidered establishing his own graduate training programme with three other similar companies in the regionbutrealised that it would be costly in time and money to resource it.

“We have been looking at how we can accelerate recruitment in the home market as we arefinding itmore and moredifficultto recruit the right people into our business, partly due adeclininginterest in a career in the sector and to the limitations imposed by Brexiton employing foreign staff,' Simpson said. 'What attracted me to MDS is that they have an established model that works. Theyhave thetalent pool and a well proven  formula for developing graduates interested in the trade.Before we even see an application, they havewhittleditdown tothe top 5 per cent, savingusvaluabletimeandrecruitment fees, and it’s been great to have extraresource at this time to help us focus on keeping the business moving in the right direction.”

TheMDStrainee at Adrian Scripps,RubyPowel,has a degree in agri-food marketing and business, and isleading theintegration ofa new software system into the business.“It’s great to have Rubyto dedicate to this project which will improve the overall efficiency of ouroperations,” said Simpson.

MDS placements have not been interrupted by the pandemic, according to the organisation.Sixty per cent ofthecurrent trainees are working on a flexible arrangement with employers, dividing their time between working from home and on-site; the remaining 40 per cent are working in the office full-time.

MDS chair Christine Tacon explained: “Throughout the pandemic we’ve been able to provide a continual supply of well-trained, motivated and confident future leaders, which has been an asset to businesses as they’ve had to navigate new challenges and review the way they work. It’s rewarding to see  that  in times of crisis, our trainees have been regarded as a benefit andpart ofprogress. It’s also fantastic to welcome more companies on board that are seeking to integrate that advantage.”  

 MDS has also reported a sharp rise in applications from university graduates this summer.