Growing Kent & Medway have teamed up with the leading training provider for the food and horticultural supply chain, MDS, to create the UK’s first regional apprenticeship hub for the fresh produce sector. The ‘Growing Talent’ pilot scheme is the first of its kind in the UK and will work with fresh produce businesses in the region to offer ambitious non-graduates and career changers a dynamic two-year paid traineeship, regardless of prior knowledge and skills.

Business development manager at MDS, Kirsty Barden, said the aim is to create long term benefits, providing jobs and excellent training opportunities in the region:

“The route into fresh produce is not always obvious, or those considering it at a career crossroads may be reluctant to start over and spend time working their way up. It is a vibrant industry full of opportunity, and with Growing Talent, we are offering a fully supported first step on the ladder, whatever your knowledge or skills. At the heart of what we do at MDS is bringing out the best in people, more than they often know they are capable of. Core to the pilot will be the mentoring and additional training we give alongside work secondments, building confidence professionally and personally which develops not only the trainee but the businesses they work for.”

MDS started over 35 years ago and has built its reputation on its graduate training programme. In February 2022, MDS started two new programmes, a Leadership & Management programme, and an Operations & Development opportunity for non-graduates as well as graduates already in the workplace, which will form the basis of the Growing Talent pilot scheme in Kent.

The pilot is aimed particularly at those who have been in work for at least a couple of years and are looking for a change in career but want to remain based in Kent. The Growing Talent programme will include up to four different work secondments over 18 months to two years, supported by mentoring and training to align with Apprenticeship Levels 3 and 5.

The MDS work secondments have traditionally been carried out in locations across the UK as well as in Europe and South America. This pilot is the first time that all four secondments will be carried out in a single region. The intention is to develop a strong hub of businesses in one area and to offer opportunities to individuals who are settled with family or other commitments, to develop their careers in this sector. If the Kent pilot proves a success, similar regional hubs will be developed around the UK.

Dr Nikki Harrison, director here at Growing Kent and Medway is calling on fresh produce businesses in the region to come together to benefit from the Kent hub:

“Joining the Growing Talent apprenticeship hub is a fantastic opportunity for fresh produce businesses to tackle recruitment challenges and develop a skilled workforce with strong roots in the area. We are leveraging the experience and training of MDS to recruit local people, put them through the development programme and provide them with the experience and skill sets required by the industry. By doing their secondments within the hub, trainees can gain valuable experience without having to relocate and get support to find permanent roles within businesses in their local area.”

Since launching its Operations & Development programme in February 2022 for those who have chosen not to go to university, MDS is seeing significant interest from employees leaving retail, the care sector and hospitality post-Covid.

MDS Trainee, India Dodge-Forder said:

“I didn’t know much about it before I started, but working in fresh produce is varied, fast-paced and can be very rewarding. Training with MDS, the mentoring and the support you get from the group of the other trainees, is what makes all the difference. I have learned so much very quickly and built up my confidence. There’s also so much more to fresh produce than production – there’s project management, science and research, engineering, data analysis and marketing if you want to keep pushing up the ladder.”

The training programme may also be available for existing staff in fresh produce businesses, using the apprenticeship levy.

We are encouraging those interested to come along to one of the events this month to find out more. The key criterium is that they must be based in Kent.

For businesses to learn more about the opportunity, please join the MDS ‘Lunch and Learn’ webinar session on 19th May. Contact Kirsty at MDS on [email protected]

For young people in the workplace looking for a career change, come along to the Rural Youth Project Festival on 20th May. Apply for a place at www.ruralyouthproject.com.

For further details about applying for the training programme, or about business membership and support for secondments, contact Kirsty at MDS on [email protected]