Pfizer UK employs seven Laboratory Scientist (Chemical Sciences) apprentices at its Sandwich, Kent site. Dr Katherine Barclay, former Director of Academic Liaison, tells us about why she chose to work with the University of Kent and how Pfizer benefits from employing apprentices.
Who are your current Kent apprentices?
The seven apprentices are all new staff - school leavers or fairly new to the industry. They are at level 5 and, for the right candidates, there would be an opportunity to progress through to a level 6 for a full degree qualification.
The benefit of taking on a group of apprentices together is that they support each other, and they’re more likely to finish the apprenticeship.
Why did you choose to work with Kent on these apprenticeships?
Kent was one of the few universities able to offer the Laboratory Scientist apprenticeship with a Chemical Sciences pathway.
Our apprentices do most of their learning online, and one advantage of working with Kent is that one of their tutors comes on site to support them. That’s important because a lot of them have just left school. Distance learning is quite a cultural change from being taught their A levels.
How have you found working with the Centre?
Scott Wildman at the Centre is really accommodating and very knowledgeable. He’s building a really good team of people who are experts in apprenticeships. I’m optimistic for the future in terms of what other apprenticeships we could use to develop our existing workforce.
How do apprentices benefit Pfizer?
To have someone with a fresh perspective challenges the status quo and I think that’s what we need. They bring innovation and creativity to the business and help increase the diversity of our workforce.
For example, we’ve had a high proportion of female students – 50% – on our apprenticeships, which traditionally hasn’t been the case.
Apprentices can also challenge us to keep up to date with things like the latest communications technology. As some of them were born with an iPhone in their hand, they can suggest better ways of accessing and using information with, for example, iPhones and tablets. They often become the ‘go-to’ people for questions about computers.
It’s also good mentoring and line management experience for existing staff
Do you consider students for employment after their apprenticeship finishes?
If there’s a permanent vacancy [starting after the apprenticeship finishes] then the apprentice would be eligible to apply for it. They’d also be eligible to apply for permanent roles during their apprenticeship.
Doing an apprenticeship also helps them access roles in other organisations – we’re on a science park and there are plenty of science companies in the area. We feel like apprenticeships are good for our business and for other businesses.
We completed our first cohort of trailblazer apprentices last academic year and all of them went on either to roles within the science industry, higher education or higher apprenticeships.
What do apprentices get out of the scheme, besides widely-known benefits such as earning while learning?
Pfizer’s a huge global organisation and the apprentices interact with so many parts of it. They can see where roles are and what those roles do. They can shadow people and develop a really extensive professional network.
While they’re on their course they meet students in different organisations so they also develop a professional network outside Pfizer that they can access.
They can also access careers advice by talking to people who are in the organisation already.