R&D Apprentice Scientist at Unilever

Start Date:
Sharnbrook, Bedfordshire
Programme Type:
Apprenticeship - Higher Level (Level 4/5)
£21,000 annually
Review Date:
June 2015

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1. Please give an overview of your role and what this involves on a day-to-day basis:


I work in the Inhalation Toxicology department of Unilever’s Safety and Environmental Assurance Centre as an R&D Apprentice currently progressing towards the long term goal of the role of a Study Director. My daily job is no different to any of the full-time qualified scientists I work with; hands-on practical work in the lab, writing reports, designing studies and contributing to an active influential scientific community in various committees, forums and Communities of Practice. The work we do involves measuring simulated consumer use and foreseeable misuse of Unilever products and prototypes that pose an inhalation Toxicological Safety risk.

One day a week I study a Biomedical Technology FdSc at the University of Kent via distance learning, with intentions of continuing to a BSc level.

2. Have you learnt any new skills or developed existing skills?


My departmental colleagues have diligently trained me to my role in the Inhalation Toxicology Unit, where I have developed a technical niche for troubleshooting and IT skills. I am also being mentored at work to improve Visual Basic programming skills, which I use to manipulate macro’s for the analytical instruments in our lab.

In 2013 I gave a speech to an audience of approximately 200 employees at a business away-day about the mutual benefits of apprenticeships to the company. This was well received and bolstered my confidence at public speaking, a skill I went on to develop as chairman of a large site-wide networking committee.

3. To what extent do you enjoy your programme?


I'm not going to lie and say every day is fantastic; it is hard work and it takes a great deal of self discipline to study the Uni course after work at home in evenings and weekends. Admittedly I occasionally regret not going to university full time, joining clubs and societies and making friends with more people my age- but on the flipside I can feel grateful for having no student debt and a good salary which helped me acquire a mortgage on a house 2 years ago. The working environment is comfortable, my colleagues are friendly and the apprenticeship is a worthwhile opportunity that has given me a headstart in life.

4. How valued do you feel by Unilever?


I feel grateful that Unilever has taken the responsibility to make an up-front investment in young people. They don't pay us the traditional offensive apprentice minimum wage that some employers are happy to get away with -even though our Tuition fee's, travel, books, expenses, materials etc are all paid for. By making that investment in us we feel a certain loyalty through appreciation and want to work hard. Aside from the apprenticeship Unilever does a lot to keep progressing the careers of young people including the UFLP and other opportunities.

5. How well organised/structured is your programme?


In my particular work unit the apprentices were recruited into gaps in departments and thats where we will stay for the course of the programme. Other apprentices have had the opportunity and flexibility to rotate around but given the highly technical and specific nature of each department in my work unit that wouldnt make sense. I sometimes feel bad about that but there are sometimes other opportunities to learn about other departments and my work sometimes crosses over but always stays firmly within safety science.

6a. How much support do you receive from your training provider?


A huge amount of support is always readily available.

6b. How much support do you receive from your employer?


A huge amount of support is always readily available.

7. How well does your salary/package meet your costs?


As mentioned above, considering the tuition fee's and other expenses are paid for- we are paid quite well. When we graduate there will still be a place for us within the departments we were apprentices- at a higher graduates salary.

8. Are there many opportunities outside of work?


I'm not actually sure I understand this question

9a. Would you recommend Unilever to a friend? *


9b. Why? *

For everything I've said above

10. What tips or advice would you give to others applying to Unilever? *

Don't be too fussy about your expectations of science careers- before you go into a professional workplace you can't really tell how interesting it really can be to work in any particular field. Having a context to apply science to can completely change things.

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