Fresh produce graduate scheme calls for more members in Scotland

The organisation offering graduate schemes for the fresh produce industry, Management Development Services (MDS), has called for more members in Scotland at an event in Dundee.

Speaking at an open day MDS chairwoman and Groceries Code Adjudicator, Christine Tacon, said the not-for-profit organisation is seeking more members in Scotland to offer placements so that its Scots trainees can establish a career in their home country.

John Gray, commercial director of Angus Soft Fruits near Arbroath, spoke of the success of the scheme for his business.

Tacon explained that by working in four different companies in four different roles over a two-year scheme the trainees gain a rounded experience which benefits both them and their future employers.

She said: “MDS has been the secret weapon of the fresh produce industry in England for over 30 years, and we want to extend the reach in Scotland as we cannot fulfil the demand of young Scottish people looking to take part in the scheme.

“We only have two members offering placements in Scotland currently, and while many trainees are happy to undertake the scheme outside Scotland, many of them ultimately want the option to forge a career back on home turf.

Having options in Scotland is very important to us as most MDS graduates are ultimately employed by MDS members once they finish the scheme, so we want to be able to offer that progression here in Scotland to young Scots,  as much as to non-Scots who want to live and work here.

“It works both ways as it also gives the fresh produce industry in Scotland a pool of high-calibre management trainees.

“It’s often a particular challenge for rural businesses to recruit reliable young people, and MDS offers them exceptional training to accelerate their potential in addition to the work experience, so this could be the answer for your business.”

MDS welcomes applications from businesses at any point in the food and fresh produce supply chain including distribution, growing, retail and imports.

Angus Soft Fruits, the multi-million-pound soft fruit supplier, has a management team of 50 across its business.

It joined MDS as a member in 2017 and has had three trainees so far.

Commercial director John Gray said: “The MDS trainees hit the ground running, and within a couple of weeks they are autonomous. In my experience, this usually takes 3-6 months.

“They have fended off so much competition to be there, they are ambitious and driven, so you know they are not going to let you down.”

MDS graduate Stephanie Brown has gone on to become a project manager at Protolan.

“The support that MDS gives you is very important,” she said. “You are working in pressurised situations and it can be tough, but MDS is there to support you through its development training and mentoring.

“You learn from those tough times – I honestly don’t think I would be as fulfilled and happy in my career if I hadn’t done the MDS graduate scheme.

By working in four different companies and in four different roles, rather than just one, you gain a wider experience of the industry and a better understanding of where you fit within it.”

The MDS graduate scheme works on a six-month rotation in four different businesses over two years.

MDS, which currently has 38 business members and 44 trainees on placement, has more than 40 applicants for each place awarded.

MDS aids the recruitment process by assessing the applications prior to proposing suitable candidates for each placement.

The scheme is open to university graduates with any degree, not specifically agriculture or food production, and many of the trainees come from backgrounds other than these.

Almost 90% of trainees take their first permanent role in the industry and 79% of its alumni that completed the scheme between 10 and 20 years ago are directors, owners or in senior management in the fresh produce industry.