Imaginative Teaching Resources & Inspirational Career Ideas from the Chilled Food Industry
Charlie Gresswell is on a three-year degree apprenticeship course with Samworth Brothers. The course is specially designed by Sheffield Hallam University, tailored to encompass work and study. We spoke to Charlie during her second year when she shared her enjoyment of the blend of hands-on experience and academic work.
What subjects did you study at school and to what level?
I have GCSEs in Maths, English (Literature & language), Science (Triple), RE, ICT, French, Geography and Music. Plus, A-Levels in Biology (A), Maths (B), Geography (A) and EPQ (A)
What appealed to you about the apprenticeship route into the industry?
At the first talk of apprenticeships in my school they piqued my interest. Conventional university didn’t appeal to me and neither did the financial burden that came with it. I prefer to learn by doing, so an apprenticeship was ideal for me.
I had years of work experience through volunteering, and am a keen worker, so something hands-on was my preference. Some of the benefits that come with the apprenticeship such as independence, a salary and a paid for degree were really attractive.
When I saw the apprenticeship within food on the government apprenticeship website, I knew it was the right one for me. I have always had an interest in food, cooking, baking etc, and my favourite subject at school was biology so it was the perfect match to my interests and skillset.
How did you find out about it?
A group of apprentice ambassadors visited my school and gave a talk on what apprenticeships are about, their benefits and how to find them. I instantly became interested and began trawling all the websites promoting apprentice opportunities at degree level. I eventually found The Samworth Brothers/ Sheffield Hallam University’s Food Technical Degree Apprenticeship on the Government’s find an apprenticeship website. Had those ambassadors not visited my school I would probably never had known about apprenticeship opportunities.
When did you join your company? What brought you to Samworth Brothers/ Melton Foods?
I joined Samworth Brothers in September 2019. I was attracted by the fantastic apprenticeship opportunity in a department I was interested in. The company’s many other benefits include a great pension scheme, great support network, food discounts and more. My scheme has three placements at three different sites within the Samworth Brothers group. My first was at The Oak Meadow site in Leicester with the Group Technical team. My second at Melton foods in Melton Mowbray working beneath the Technical Compliance Manager and in September 2021 I move to Walkers Deli & Sausage in Leicester where I will be working as a QA and on projects beneath the site Technical Manager.
How do you find the split between working and study?
Apprentices within Technical at Samworth Brothers are very lucky. The Higher Level Apprentice managers ensure we get our 20% off-the-job time required for the funding, have lots of great opportunities such as training, and allow us the time we need (and support where necessary) to complete our academic work. So far, I have found the split really good. I am given the independence to manage my time, so I do not get behind on assignments and study. I understand that things may get tougher as we have more university work in year 3 but I am confident that Samworth Brothers will support me in all the ways I need.
When do you first become interested in Food Science?
I have always been interested in science. Biology was my favourite subject at school and one of my A-Level subjects. My secondary school specialised in science and we therefore did triple science at GCSEs. I really enjoyed the subjects and got As in Biology, chemistry and Physics at GCSE.
Unfortunately, in my school, food science wasn’t something that was readily taught so I never got a real taste of what it was. When I started the apprenticeship in 2019 I got my first look at the subject and was immediately interested. The university course content is very broad and interesting, and some of the great projects/ work I have done have piqued my interest further.
What does your role involve? Is it fun, interesting?
My role is very varied. It involves projects plus work for members of the technical team such as on packaging specifications and risk assessments, GAP analyses, HACCP work and much more. I find my role interesting, and, while some things are more interesting than others, at the end of the day everything I take part in helps me grow academically and professionally. There are some fun parts too, such as attending taste panels and benchmarking exercises where you get to try some great food.
What are your long-term career plans?
As far as long-term career plans, I have never really known! I like working within technical – the job is interesting, it’s a really important department and the people are great, but I’d love to explore other parts of the food industry and technical team too to see where I best fit. Due to COVID-19 I didn’t get as much experience during the first and second year of my apprenticeship as I would have liked, so am making up for lost time, shadowing different departments within Melton Foods and learning every day!
What advice would you give to someone thinking about Food Science as a career? And perhaps taking up an apprenticeship?
It’s such an interesting side of an industry that not many people know about. The roles are very varied, and food science is such a key part of putting safe food on people’s plates. There is so much to learn, and so much potential progression!
I would recommend an apprenticeship to anyone. I have benefitted from my degree apprenticeship in so many ways. The benefits include gaining years of work experience, working towards a degree, growing personally, building a professional network and undertaking training. On top of these great benefits you are paid for your time and contributions, allowing you to become financially independent.
Anything else to add?
My five top tips for someone considering an apprenticeship within the food industry:
Don’t be pigeonholed into going to university if it’s not for you. The conventional route is not for everyone, don’t be afraid to be different.
Work experience is key. So many jobs call for work experience, what better way to gain it than working! The food industry, and specifically the technical department, is a great area to get fantastic experience and to work with incredibly skilled professionals.
Apprenticeships tick all the boxes – you get work experience, learn every day, earn a living, grow personally and professionally and have the opportunity to make a real difference. My role within Samworth Brothers and Melton Foods allows me to bring changes into place to benefit the business and contribute to its continuing success.
Apprenticeships give a great balance. You are still doing the academic side of things (whether it be university, college etc) but you also get the hands-on day to day which is great for people who don’t want to be stuck in a classroom. You learn so much just being around the right people and getting involved, not just by being sat in a classroom.
There’s no reason not to do an apprenticeship, and I would highly recommend one within Technical. All in all, it’s a great opportunity – apprentices learn loads, get experience, earn qualifications and money, and so many other positive things.
To hear more about degree apprenticeships click through to our interview with Dr Caroline Millman of Sheffield Hallam University.