Northern Ireland agri-food business Lakeland Dairies is celebrating the benefits of helping students complete their training during this year's Apprenticeship Week.

Northern Ireland Apprenticeship Week runs from April 26 to May 2, 2021, and celebrates the broad range of apprenticeships available in the region, as well as the contribution apprenticeships make to people, businesses, communities and the economy.

'Learning the skills as well as the theory'

One local business, Lakeland Dairies' Pritchitts site in Newtownards is helping future-proof its skills needs through Level 2 Apprenticeships in Food Industry Skills in conjunction with the College of Agriculture Food and Rural Enterprise (CAFRE).

Robbie Thompson, one of the first cohort of food apprentices working in the company, said: “I am really enjoying the apprenticeship, getting regular feedback on my work, completing the observations, which is something I’ve never experienced before and learning more about each process that goes on in the factory.

"I have definitely been able to learn and develop skills faster compared to just learning from a classroom.

"As we learn the skills as well as the theory; I am getting a clearer understanding of the whole factory operation and not just one machine, which in turn should make my job and further learning easier.”

Luke Hobson is also on the Level 2 Food Industry Skills apprenticeship.

He explained that the apprenticeship has made him more confident through improved teamwork and time-keeping skills.

“I have also developed a better understanding of the role of IT in food processing since starting my apprenticeship. I hope to gain a positive experience working in the food industry while improving more of my skills," he said.

Conor Mageean, manufacturing manager at Pritchitts, Lakeland Dairies, said he was very pleased with the relationship between CAFRE and the company.

“Lakeland are using the food and drink manufacture apprenticeship in conjunction with CAFRE as an opportunity to gain qualifications for our staff whilst learning about the specifics of milk powder and UHT manufacture," Mageean said.

"We are a highly automated site and felt it was the best approach to ensure we train our new staff so they have the knowledge and skills to work within our modern food processing facility.”

Commenting on these programmes, Course Director Nicola Kerr stated: “The Level 2 and Level 3 Food and Drink Apprenticeships offered at CAFRE are work-based programmes, which offer apprentices the opportunity to ‘earn as you learn’ whilst developing knowledge and skills in their chosen vocation.

"They are open to new employees and to those already in employment who are progressing in their career. These nationally-recognised qualifications are tailored to meet the needs of learners and their employers.”