A series of modern apprenticeships for a very modern company – AstraZeneca

Apprenticeships are no longer the realm of the local garage and the trades that they are commonly associated with. The modern apprenticeship is now moving with the times into the world of business and commerce. Big business, like Macclesfield based, Astra Zeneca have embraced the change and recently took the decision to recruit their first cohort of business apprentices.


More importantly they are using the North West as their global testing ground for a new way of thinking – combining an apprentice intake with their traditional graduate programme. This is testimony to the fact that businesses are now embracing apprenticeship programmes as the new way to grow their future workforce. 


As university fees rise and students are now expected to contribute up to £9000 per year towards their fees –  students and parents are now having to think seriously whether or not a university education is the right way to go and worth the investment of time and money. If students are able to get their ideal job via an apprenticeship route straight from school or college which incorporates the training, work experience and qualifications they need   – then what more will university do for them!! Many school and college leavers have also witnessed their brothers and sisters leaving university faced with a lack of opportunities when they leave.


For a long time now – employers have valued work experience and time served working within business, which means that apprentices have three to four years of work experience under their belts compared with graduates leaving university after the same amount of time.  


Last year, the government commissioned ex-Dragon Doug Richard to review the Apprenticeship system in the UK. The Richard Review was the start of a revolution for Apprenticeships. With this began a fundamental change where people and businesses started to realise that Apprenticeships really do matter, not just in Manchester, but all over the country. As Doug Richard says “Apprentices matter because many jobs are best prepared for whilst on the job. They matter because no single means of learning will ever suit everyone. They matter because many of the best run companies include apprentices, and they matter because the success of our society is, in part, measured on its capacity to shepherd our young people from childhood into meaningful employment.”


Astra Zeneca took the plunge at the beginning of the year and started their recruitment drive in the spring. They partnered with the Apprentice Academy in Manchester who sourced the students for them from schools and colleges all around the Manchester area. During the process, students registered their interest and then attended 3 days of assessment that took place at The Apprentice Academy and Astra Zeneca’s site in Macclesfield. The assessments all took place during term time and were so successful that AZ were happy to give all 8 apprentices “unconditional job offers” based on their predicted A level grades. Something that universities never do!!


As Chris Day – VP Global Solution Delivery, AstraZeneca says “We’re very keen at AstraZeneca to introduce an Apprenticeship scheme for a number of reasons. Firstly, we recognise the need to introduce new talent into the organisation. We’ve recognised that over time we’ve become an ageing organisation and we want to inject youthful energy. We recognise that the youngsters of today have very sharp technology skills; we want to harness those and bring that into the organisation. It’s also a mechanism for us to contribute back to the local community.”


Whilst Rebecca Assheton-Smith – Central Operations HR Partner, AstraZeneca adds “I think [this is] a great opportunity for both young talent in the surrounding areas of Macclesfield and a great opportunity to bring talent into AstraZeneca and really see people grow and develop over the next 18 months to 2 years. I really hope this programme’s extremely successful and I hope that we can do more work with The Apprentice Academy as we move through time.” The apprentices offered position with Astra Zeneca came from Fallibroome Academy, Poynton Sixth Form, The Kings School, Tytherington High School and Winstanley College.  Judith Wallace – Head of IT and Computing at Winstanley College commented on hearing the news  “The Apprenticeship opportunities at AstraZeneca make me want to go back and have my time at School  again!”


Astra Zeneca’s apprentices will start The Apprentice Academy’s Graduate Calibre programme this September giving them one final long summer holiday to enjoy before they officially start work.  The new Graduate Calibre programme has been specifically designed for apprentices as an alternative to university giving them the critical thinking and life skills they will need to help them be successful in the workplace.


Dom Sheratte, who is one of the lucky eight apprentices is 18 years old, lives in Macclesfield and went to the King’s School in Macclesfield.  Dom said “After finding out about Apprenticeships during a School assembly, I knew straight away that this was the opportunity for me as I did not fully know what I wanted to do at University and did not want to waste time. The AstraZeneca Apprenticeship programme is fantastic and will give me valuable business experience and hopefully a wonderful career. My friends think I have been the luckiest out of all of them.”


Dom’s father, Daniel Sheratte, a Masters Development Manager at Manchester Metropolitan University said “Professional organisations such as AstraZeneca provide young, innovative people with an excellent developmental alternative to an academic route and this is certainly something that has enthused and inspired our son Dom. With his passion to succeed, we hope that this will lead to an excellent pathway to higher achievements.”


Whilst a recent CIPD survey (Employee Outlook: Focus on Apprenticeships)  surveyed 400 working parents and revealed that only 1 in 10 of parents ranked apprenticeships as their preferred qualification for their children with  half preferring  a university degree. When asked what would make them believe that apprenticeships are a better career option – the top two reasons cited were more information about apprenticeships and career options and more local employers offering modern apprenticeships.


Alison Bagnall – Director at The Apprentice Academy commented “Parents are very much in the dark when knowing the options available for their children. It’s a very worrying time for them – not knowing what will be the best option. This is why we spent the last 9 months attending school fairs and speaking to parents specifically about our new graduate calibre programme discussing the concept with them. This new type of programme has gained a lot of interest particularly when  combined with organisations  like Astra Zeneca who are a fantastic employer.”


Mr Tweedy – father of James one of the apprentices to be offered an apprenticeship at AZ said ““As parents, we are delighted that James has chosen the path of an Apprenticeship. With the increasing costs of University, coupled with very few job opportunities, we would like to think that this is by far the best way forward for our son.”


Another parent – Jenny Beeby – mother of William one of the apprentices to be offered at AZ conferred saying “We were thrilled to hear that our son had been successful in acquiring an Apprenticeship with such a high performing global company as AstraZeneca. It will allow him to enter the world of work without the financial worry that comes with going to University.”


Perhaps, it is due to bigger macro changes in education and the fact that careers guidance budgets have been cut throughout the country that awareness of apprenticeships schemes is still low in schools. Yet with the talent scout initiative pioneered by The Apprentice Academy who worked with AZ on this project things are definitely starting to change.


Alison Bagnall Director at the Apprentice Academy commented “Most employers are not aware of the seasonality when recruiting apprentices. It seems obvious to those of us in the education system that the summer is the time – however employers don’t live in this world. Many employers tend to make short term decisions when they recruit apprentices and other staff and it usually coincides with someone leaving the business that needs replacing rather than a planned start. It’s really important that businesses think of the summer as the main time to recruit apprentices – if they want to attract the best talent. This year for the first time, we engaged with a large number of A level students who traditionally have not considered Apprenticeships as an option. This is how we found the 8 apprentices for Astra Zeneca I know that students with A levels will be of great interest to businesses – possibly as an alternative to graduates, but employers must move quickly as these candidates won’t be around for long!! .”