Stephen Stewart

“The feedback we get from our apprentices is generally very good and they think the teaching staff are very engaged and responsive.”

Originally, when we did some analysis we found we had an ageing workforce, with several people with key skills and capabilities moving towards retirement. We needed to bring new people in to meet our future skills needs and at the same time we were able to look at a new way of doing that, which could also positively impact our diversity.

Finding the right programme

When we first had the realisation that we needed these new skills there wasn’t a course out there that really delivered what we were looking for. We wanted to bring people in and progress them up to higher-level skills in our labs and complement this with a nationally recognised qualification. We spoke with Cogent and the team at Manchester Met who pitched the foundation degree opportunity to us, where people would learn all the core skills for laboratory science. It was a really good fit for us.

Recruiting apprentices

As all our apprentices are people who were coming as new members of staff, we did quite a lot of outreach work with schools and colleges near to our sites using our STEM Ambassadors and current apprentices. Most of our apprentices come from these routes, but we do also have some who have joined us as a career change. We had a lot of interest in our roles, especially in our Laboratory Scientist ones.

Blending working and learning

Each of our sites has different requirements and times when people are busy and not so busy. Generally, we try to give people a day a week to focus on their studies and the fact that it is supported distance learning provides us with a lot of scope for flexibility.

Our large geographic spread can be a challenge, but where we have more than one apprentice at a site, they have formed study groups to support each other. They have also created online groups using things like WhatsApp, so they’ve created their own support network. We’ve also been really encouraged by the support our more experienced apprentices have given to our new starters, by becoming informal mentors.

Impact of apprentices

The apprentices are making a massive contribution to us. This has been recognised by some of them winning awards, such as a Women in Science and Engineering (WISE) award and more recently winning the regional heats in the Brathay Apprentice Challenge. The senior stakeholders who look after our schemes are really impressed with them, their commitment and how they are progressing.

We have managed to land the vast majority of our apprentices into permanent roles, so it is really working for us as a company and they are adding value to our business.

Working with Manchester Metropolitan University

The feedback we get from our apprentices is generally very good and they think the teaching staff are very engaged and responsive. The team at Manchester Met are in regular contact to keep us up to date with how our apprentices are progressing and they let us know of any issues very quickly.

Mike and Paul have come down to visit us in Stevenage and meet the course leaders there. They have been really responsive, listened to our requests and given us fantastic feedback about the apprentices.

Nothing is ever perfect, but we know who to contact when we need to and we always know we’ll be listened to. It’s a great relationship.

Future plans

We are really keen to keep recruiting apprentices in line with our strategic workforce plan. It’s really important to me that we keep numbers sustainable as I want them all to have roles to progress into. We are taking on these apprentices for a long-term career within the company, not just for the sake of employing apprentices.

The exciting thing for me is now to look how we can use what we have learnt on this apprenticeship and try to roll that out to our sites across the world.


Find out more about the Laboratory Scientist Apprenticeship