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Thatchers Cider: orchard of opportunity

Apprenticeships are receiving a little more attention at the moment – but partnering with colleges to offer talent schemes is nothing new for the area’s most famous fourth-generation cidermaker

Over the summer, it was announced by the Prime Minister that every young person in Britain would be
guaranteed an apprenticeship as part of the country’s economic recovery. Robert Halfon, chair of the Education Select Committee, who proposed the idea, said the radical measure was a chance to re-establish a ladder of opportunity. For one West Country employer, though, it’s more of an orchard of opportunity.

Partnering with colleges to offer talent schemes is not a new thing for the area’s most famous fourth-generation cidermaker, which in 2018 introduced the Thatchers Young Talent Programme down at Myrtle Farm in Sandford, Somerset. A family-run company that, we can all agree, has experienced significant growth over the last 10 years, Thatchers has kept moving forward, looking to recruit additional staff in every department, from cidermaking and farming to hospitality and sales, in line with this growth. However, they’ve found two things – firstly that Thatchers has not been front of mind with school leavers and graduates, and secondly that there has been a distinct lack of knowledge about careers within the food and drink sector and apprenticeships. As a result, relevant apprenticeship applications have been limited. “So,” says Emma Cox, head of field sales, “we decided to take the matter into our own hands, and set off
on the journey of creating our own apprenticeship programme to attract the best people and increase our investment into training and development.”

Over the Thatchers Young Talent Programme’s first three years, over 30 people have been welcomed onto the scheme, gaining qualifications in a real-life work environment. “But it’s more than that,” says Emma. “You develop the skills, knowledge and behaviours to have a successful career in industry. It is extremely important to train the next generation and as a local employer we wanted to provide career opportunities for local young people who felt that they did not want to go to university but gain valuable experience in a real business with real opportunities.”

The key objectives have been to inspire, educate and lead, putting the young people at the heart of the programme and ensuring they have all of the skills and knowledge to be able to have a successful career within the food and drink industry. Apprentices undertake mentoring and skills development in three key areas: commercial awareness, employability skills and technical knowledge. They get involved in a host of activities and visits to local businesses, acting as apprentice ambassadors at local school careers fairs and, for some, even filming their own personal case studies for the national apprenticeship Fire It Up campaign. Thatchers worked closely with local schools and colleges to create the programme, resulting in apprenticeships developed for tailored pathway academies to meet their own skills objectives – Cider Academy with Bridgwater and Taunton College; Brand and Chef Academy with Weston College, and Thatchers Sales Academy. As a levy-paying employer, they have used their funds carefully to look at how they can develop the apprenticeship provision to not only increase the skill set of their young talent but also to enhance the development of current employees.

Possible paths include cidermaking, farming and hospitality

“Apprenticeships allow people to earn while they learn, gaining experience that can kickstart their career and support businesses during these uncertain times,” says Tracie Leahy, head of apprenticeship recruitment at Weston College. “I’m delighted businesses are recognising this and we’re seeing more employers contact us as they seek to hire new talent and develop existing. The notion is improved for businesses by the government’s apprenticeship incentive scheme, where employers gain up to £3,000 in government funding by offering an apprenticeship to someone under the age of 25, plus, for 25 and overs, £1,500 incentive funding. Apprenticeships are also a fantastic way of retraining existing staff who may need to take on extra or different responsibilities due to the effect of the pandemic on business.”

Applications for the next intake of Thatchers apprentices open in February 2021 – keep an eye on the website for details; thatcherscider.co.uk.

Contact apprenticeships@weston.ac.uk for more on Weston College opportunities.