First 17 people qualified in Food Manufacturing Excellence Apprenticeships to meet Skills Minister

  • Skills Minister John Hayes MP visited Thorntons PLC on Thursday May 10th.
  • The Minister has presented certificates to the country’s first 17 qualified apprentices in Food Manufacturing Excellence – all are employees at Thorntons.
  • National Skills Academy for Food & Drink identified a need for the qualification which was delivered by Academy “National Champion” CQM Training & Consultancy Ltd with West Nottinghamshire College.

On Thursday May 10th John Hayes MP, Minister of State for Further Education, Skills and Lifelong Learning at the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills awarded 17 employees of Thorntons PLC with the Improve Proficiency Apprenticeship in Food Manufacturing Excellence (FME) qualification, Level 3. They are the first people in England and Wales to have achieved this. Mr Hayes visited Thorntons’ factory and offices in Alfreton, Derbyshire to present the certificates and meet the apprentices.

The qualification takes a year of on-the-job training and encompasses lean manufacturing techniques and workplace culture change. It was specifically designed for the food industry by Improve, the sector skills council for UK Food & Drink manufacturing, following identification of an industry need by its sister organisation, The National Skills Academy for Food & Drink.

John Hayes the Minister of State for Further Education, Skills and Lifelong Learning said “These apprentices at Thorntons are a shining example of how vocational education can boost productivity and competitiveness and contribute to a more motivated and satisfied workforce.

“It is a great honour to present their certificates which they so richly deserve. As the first people in the country to achieve this qualification, their path to success should serve as an inspiration to all.”

CQM Training & Consultancy Ltd, based near Sheffield, was chosen to deliver the training by Thorntons for whom CQM T&C already delivers other successful lean manufacturing programmes. For this qualification, it worked in partnership with West Nottinghamshire College who jointly funded the scheme with Thorntons.

The new FME qualification is one of the few that benefits both the individual who achieves the qualification and the business that sponsors it. It embraces a philosophy of continuous improvement and culture change to add value throughout the production process. This is a great challenge in an industry with high employee turnover. It has been a huge success at Thorntons and continues with 30 new members of staff identified from within the workforce to continue this valuable development programme.

Numerous improvements have been identified in Thorntons chocolate production since the apprentices started their training in March 2011, specifically in three areas: the chocolate enrobing line, the robotics packaging line and packaging flow

  • Waste has been reduced by a third
  • Staff productivity is now ahead of budget
  • Overhead costs are flat against increasing volumes

In fact this structured Lean development programme, including the delivery of these first 17 adult apprentices in Food Manufacturing Excellence, has significantly contributed towards over £1million worth of savings from productivity improvements.

Jonathan Hart, CEO explains: Thorntons is always looking at ways to invest in its people through training and development, and has therefore partnered with West Notts College and CQM Training & Consultancy Ltd to become the first business in the country to achieve the Improve Proficiency Apprenticeship in Food Manufacturing Excellence at Level 3 for 17 of its employees. This was a fantastic opportunity for many staff to further their skill set, expand their education and give them a recognised qualification which was designed by our own National Skills Academy for Food & Drink.

We had a great response from staff wanting to take part in the course, with 17 people coming forward, all of whom have now completed the course and gained their qualification. As a business we have found the apprentices to be more engaged in the operation of the business, they now have a greater understanding of their roles and form a key part in helping to continually improve our manufacturing processes through their growing knowledge.

Thorntons is committed to continuing the partnership and supporting its staff through the development of NVQs and Apprenticeships. We currently have the next group of 30 employees working towards this same qualification in Food Manufacturing Excellence following the success of the first course. This year we have also introduced a further level 2 qualification in Process Improvement for an additional 28 staff.’

Justine Fosh, Director of skills solutions at the National Skills Academy for Food & Drink commented: “FME training delivers solutions that ensure efficiency gains for the business in the short term and underpin significant growth opportunities for the medium and long term. We are pleased that it has been successfully piloted at Thorntons and is being adopted in many other organisations in the food and drink sector.”

Since they started to work together in 2009, CQM T&C and Thorntons have taken an innovative approach to process and continuous improvement. Groups of people were formed across different functions enabling a wider range of ideas and contributions. Team members were offered a combination of skills training and coaching support to help them fully embrace their learning. Teams were coached to assess for themselves the financial impact of their improvement activities on the business.

Peter Booth, Managing Director of CQM T&C added: “The whole Thorntons team has been totally committed to supporting this complex programme. We have seen a radical change in the way people now plan their work, resulting in some impressive improvements impacting the bottom line.”

Anthony Knowles of the National Apprenticeship Service said: “We are delighted about the first group of young people to achieve the new Advanced Apprenticeship in Food Manufacturing Excellence. We know that advanced apprenticeships deliver a clear return on investment, the National Audit Office recently concluded that returns at this level are worth on average £21 for every £1 to the economy. This new qualification is designed to maximise the return on investment for food and drink employers and will make a huge bottom line impact on employers like Thornton’s and the careers of their Apprentices who have successfully completed.”