In September 2016, I made the exciting and daunting switch into management within Chemical Development at AstraZeneca, leading a large team of scientific specialists. This was all brand new to me and thankfully I was lucky enough to inherit a richly diverse and supportive team, including two established degree apprentices, as well as others with up to 30 years’ experience in industry. I was so busy learning the ropes that I didn’t appreciate the positive impact that our apprentices would have on the business and on my views on growing our talent in the business.
The penny drops… the impact on the business
Very quickly I came to realise that our apprentices are not just a lot of fun to work with, they are ambitious, highly driven individuals with a keen sense of self-awareness which sets them apart from many of their peers. They appreciate, often from an early age, that they are determined to embark on their own path to a degree aside from the traditional route of full-time study.
With this comes impressive out-of-the box thinking, allowing AstraZeneca to benefit from individuals with unique skill sets within our field. Our approach has been to ensure apprentices become experts in key areas of scientific ways of working, which we haven’t been able to crack due to time pressures of project delivery. One great example of this was development of an automated robotic platform for solubility measurement – critical to the development of every one of our drug projects and delivered by one of our apprentices. In other pioneering work, an apprentice has developed an automated reaction workstation to build understanding of our chemistries in a data rich fashion.
These activities would simply not have happened if it weren’t for the drive from our apprentices. It is clear that they’ve significantly changed the way we work to deliver drugs to patients. This type of ground-breaking work has led to three of our apprentices (Roxanne Wright, Holly Carter and Will Ashworth) to be awarded Royal Society of Chemistry Chemical Sciences Apprentice of the Year on three consecutive occasions.
Impact on our people… and me
What of those colleagues I spoke of earlier with 30 years’ experience? They are now approaching our apprentices for their expertise, and crucially these experienced staff are also working hard to ensure the apprentices become rounded, well developed scientists by the end of their apprenticeship. This works both ways, building our skills from the ground up and ensure the sustainability of our talent for the future.
On a personal level, from those early experiences of apprenticeships, I now find myself leading the apprenticeship scheme for Chemical Development and have had the opportunity to work with our learning provider Manchester Metropolitan University to develop the course over the past four years and support our 22-strong current laboratory science apprentice cohort through their BSc degree and beyond. This has become a significant aspect of my career I am passionate about, and look to continue to develop apprenticeships in new and exciting ways for AstraZeneca in the future.