Cian Short, Early Careers Manager, Bakkavor – Full Interview

What’s Bakkavor’s current position on apprenticeships and how did you come to be here?

We’re wholly invested in them; they make up a big part of what we’re doing. An example is this year we’re going to recruit somewhere between 70 and 90 apprentices. If you compare that to last year, it was 40. If you compare that to the year before it was 20. So even in the midst of a global pandemic, it’s been double, double, double. And then next year, the aim is hopefully 150.

We really want to be getting up to about 150 to 200 apprentices per year. So, it’s steadily grown, we have we’ve been able to take advantage since 2017 with the levy being introduced that there’s more money available to support the cost of the qualifications, which has given us the confidence to be able to grow it.

How do apprenticeships help Bakkavor build the future?

For us they make a key part of our planning for but now and for the future. And this is using apprenticeships both to bring new talent into the business and to use apprenticeships to upskill existing colleagues. We’ve all seen the challenges in the labor market, and we’ve all seen the challenges of the food industry as a whole. We’re the biggest manufacturing sector in the UK, but we’ve probably got one of those disparate voices, and the vast majority of people don’t really know who we are. So, we need to be using the food and drink apprenticeships to show people how amazing an industry it is. I’ve never worked in any other industry since I was sixteen, and I loved it. I’m really passionate about it, so apprenticeships really help Bakkavor to build those future talent pipelines, and build succession plans with the potential to hopefully take over the business one day.

What are Bakkavor’s top three successes as a result of apprenticeships?

So I think number one is that we’ve been able to build on the successes of the program, so even though we’re not as well known, we’re not branded. We have more difficulties in name recognition, all that sort of stuff. We still been able to double our program and build on the success foundations of each year that goes through. So that’s been a huge success for us. The fact that what we do works so that we can build on it. So that’s definitely a massive success. I think how apprenticeships are viewed throughout the group is absolutely another big success. The fact that in years gone by, hopefully never to be seen again, apprenticeships had a stigma. It was, if you do an apprenticeship, you can’t go to college. Apprenticeships are an amazing opportunity for anyone who’s capable of anything. The sites see them as a vital part of their succession planning for the future and where they step into the direction with the overall business. So it’s that change in mindset, and how that then translates onto the people who already work for us and use our apprenticeships as part of their upskilling of their development pathways for them to progress with the business. So that’s been another massive success. The apprenticeships are just seen as this amazing, exciting thing now. Rather than just going out and saying, do you want to do an apprenticeship? We’ve got waiting lists. All of my sites have people who are knocking on the door saying can I do this?

Ultimately, it’s about options. You know people are ready, you know there’s lots of different types of people in the world and everyone’s ready for different things at different times. We shouldn’t ever just go right, well, we only do this! if we only did this then we are cutting off so much potential talent out there. It’s that information out there, whatever suits you, at whatever point in your life, we’ve got options for you and that’s what it’s all about. It’s not close off any avenues to go down and say well we will only take graduates from these universities, that’s a small-minded view. Some people are 100 per cent ready to do their GCSEs and then ready to go into work and ready for the apprenticeship. Some people want to go to college first, cool so make sure we have higher apprenticeships ready for them for. Some people want to go to university, fine, let’s have a graduate program ready for them. That’s what it’s all about for us, and that’s the way Bakkavor see it.

What key reasons do you give for getting involved with apprenticeships as an employer?

Why close off potential talent? There’s talented people at every age, from every background, from every interest, whatever it may be. Why would you not do it? That’s my view on apprenticeships. It’s a no brainer, they can be so rewarding. It brings so many good people into the business.

Would you recommend apprenticeships as a route into employment and what are the key benefits to doing an apprenticeship with bakkavor?

100%, apprenticeships a great way to start your career. The advice I give students when I go and talk to them is, you’ve really got to figure out how you learn best. What’s your learning style and what environment suits you. Because for some people, 100%, it’s GCSE’s, college and then university. It’s also the environment where you’re going to drive yourself to go and do it. You need to really look at yourself and really look at those options and think about  where you’re going to be best suited, because at the end of the day, you want to be in an environment where you’re going to thrive.

As an employer, what are the most important aspects of your relationship with the EPA was?

For us, it’s all about the approach the EPAO takes. Don’t get me wrong, in some cases, there’s still only one EPAO for some standards. So you’re working with them on those standards and that’s it. But where there is the choice for us, it’s about which EPAO is open to a collaboration, a partnership, a relationship to build and support each other and grow versus who sees it as transactional, for us, it’s all about it’s all about our partnership, and it’s all about getting to know each other and how it’s done, EPAOs being open to feedback about what works and what doesn’t work. We want to have that relationship; it makes it better for the apprentice and that’s what we’re all here for at the end of the day.

As an employer how did you select your EPA partners?

Go and meet them and go and talk to them, I like to sit down and have a chat about how you like to work, how I like to work, and where we meet in the middle and with the provider. So that’s a big thing for me. I don’t need a glossy magazine or anything like that, I don’t need a sales pitch, I just need to talk to people. These are the standards we do that you do. How does it work in reality? What are you actually going to do? What are your steps? Then you know, we find a common ground, that’s how we decide, and that’s how you know if you can work with people and build up relationship.

What value or values do you get the most benefit from working with OAL?

It’s that partnership that we’ve got. It’s a collaboration, it’s the two-way street. The fact that I can just pick up the phone or speak to anyone and either ask questions or suggest something, and then it’s, “right, leave it with us”. It’s that clear, open communication we have. And I think it’s the common goal that we have, it’s about the apprentice at the end of the day and making the best process. We counsel them. So that’s why I like working with our OAL. just have that open relationship that makes life easier.

What hints and tips for engaging with apprenticeships would you give employers in the food and drink industry if they were just starting their apprenticeship journey now?

I think number one, you’ve got to make sure you’ve got that infrastructure internally. Do you have that buy in from the business, from senior leaders in the business? Are they backing apprenticeships? Do you have the line managers in place that are ready for apprenticeships there? Understand them, know how to manage their apprenticeship, and understand the standard itself? Do you have your support network, mentors, your buddies, that kind of thing? Do you have all that in place? Ready to go. Where do you stand with this strategy, succession plan? They have to have a place of value, not just in a minute because of the crunch. Where do they fit in, why are you doing it?