1. Please give an overview of your role and what this involves on a day-to-day basis:
I am a TDE (Trainee Dairy Engineer) or in other words, an engineering apprentice with Dairy specific knowledge and training. My role varies a great deal. Usually I am part of a reactive shift maintenance team from whom I try to learn as much as possible. For indefinite periods I also spend time focusing on projects in areas that require sustained and detailed attention. I am currently undertaking one of these periods during the third year of my apprenticeship, working in the Butter and Spreads department, looking to create a more detailed and comprehensive annual maintenance plan, and form a critical spares list for particular machines which have accumulated a high level of downtime. On a daily basis I am expected to attend Departmental Review Meetings, which happen an hour into the 12 hour shift, this ensures everybody is aware of everything that is happening, and jobs can be prioritized accordingly. I interact with Operations, Stores personnel, and Supply Chain internally. Externally I deal with suppliers, and experts in any given field of engineering.
2. Have you learnt any new skills or developed existing skills?
I have completed my BTEC level 3 qualification and almost finished my NVQ level 3 qualification in engineering maintenance. I have also acquired (or renewed due to working in the dairy industry for a number of years prior to this course) HACCP level 3, Management of Health and Safety Level 3, COSHH level 3, Manual Handling level 2, IOSH and various other useful work related qualifications.
On a more negative note I also had to complete functional skills qualifications in Maths English and ICT. This was due to my GCSEs and A Levels not being with 5 years of recency. This I found particularly patronising and a complete and utter waste of 3 days of my time. Having studied mathematics to degree level (Physics), being forced to sit in a classroom where the (less qualified) tutor, explained how to perform basic arithmetic and geometry was particularly insulting.
3. To what extent do you enjoy your programme?
I enjoy my work most days, I enjoy the shift team that I work with. I do feel that the company use me as labour as we struggle for bodies due to ongoing recruitment difficulties. I feel that as an independent learner I am able to cope without much support but it is difficult working alone on projects for up to a year with little input from others. The company culture is shocking at this site however within Arla as a whole I believe it is above average. The programme at college is most enjoyable, if not a little rushed. I think my expectations were more towards a traditional apprentice with more time under instruction.
4. How valued do you feel by Arla Foods?
I do not feel particularly well valued by Arla foods, I feel that my manager values me a great deal, and that my departmental manager also values my help. There is plenty of involvement in tasks and projects, but I sometimes I feel this is simply because nobody else wishes to take on a particular responsibility. I would say that I receive smatterings of internal recognition but certainly never any external recognition. I would consider that to Arla as a whole I am simply another number, for example issues with Payroll, issuing incorrect contractual terms (as an internal candidate) and lying about site placements during the first two years of my contract.
5. How well organised/structured is your programme?
There was little induction to the program. The training is excellent from most tutors, but lacks depth due to the time available. Support is readily available when requested, and there is plenty of time to study. My mentor at site is excellent, however I didn't really have one for the first 16 months of the course.
The organisation of the programme is haphazard and we are never aware of it until we arrive for a college block, at which point the itinerary tends to change several times each week.
6a. How much support do you receive from your training provider?
I receive as much support as requested from my training provider. Oliver the course leader is always willing to give extra time to discuss any issues or questions I might have.
6b. How much support do you receive from your employer?
My mentor is usually very supportive. The Engineering manager supports his own personnel needs ('The needs of the business') and not mine when it comes to work patterns and task setting. That said he is a friendly and generous manager to work under in other respects.
7. How well does your salary/package meet your costs?
My salary is excellent for an apprentice at £28k. At the moment, after fighting somewhat, I live 2 miles from work, my travel to college is reimbursed and all living costs at college are also covered. It wasn't so excellent when I was sent to work at another site, which required me to pay rent there and at home each month and spend £500 a month on fuel travelling between home and work every '4 off' of the shift pattern. The company didn't contribute anything towards these costs, and it took a threat of resignation to facilitate a move back to my home site where I am now very happy.
8. Are there many opportunities outside of work?
I have many personal commitments outside of work, Captain of local swimming club, member of pool teams, and an avid traveler. None of this is related to work however. There are work Christmas parties and the occasional shift get together for drinks on off days. No other activities that I can think of.
9. Would you recommend Arla Foods to a friend?
I would recommend Arla Foods purely due to the job security and somewhat decent salaries on offer dependent upon the site in question. I know many people that do a much harder days work for very little money but would be more than capable of learning complex dairy processes.
10. What tips or advice would you give to others applying to Arla Foods?
I would advise anybody to sell themselves well if applying to Arla. If you achieved A*s or As Bs or Cs at GCSEs state how many and which subjects, as opposed to writing: 8 GCSEs, followed by nothing else. Same applies to A-Level or degree qualifications. State any musical qualifications, and any other qualifications you held regardless of whether you believe it has any relevance to the job you are applying for. Appearing committed and studious will get you through the door for the interview. In the interview smile and take your time. Being tongue tied is okay and shows that you consider things carefully before making decisions.
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