My Apprenticeship Journey – Ryan Clifford, Research & Development Apprentice at Unilever
Posted: 3rd of August 2016 by Emily Dujon
My Unilever journey began mid-way through year thirteen. I was in a blur of exams, coursework, and part-time work whilst also, rather reluctantly, completing my UCAS personal statement – as every student is seemingly urged to do nowadays!
Amidst the tripling of student fees, I was desperate to find an alternative for post sixth form education. But after failing to find a more vocational move, offering a high enough level of education, I weighed up my options and surrendered to the idea that full-time university was the most sensible progression route.
It wasn’t until the April of that academic year that my tutor handed me a glimmer of hope. That morning Unilever had sent out leaflets and promoted online that they were opening up positions for higher apprenticeships in research and development; offering the opportunity to ‘earn whilst you learn’ in either chemistry, engineering and Food Science. It was a five year scheme and Unilever offered to pay university fees in combination with a healthy salary and range of benefits – including an on-site golf course!
I was offered a role within Unilever’s Refreshment category which includes beverages and ice cream and was given an unconditional offer to study on a five year part-time BSc Food Science & Technology course at Nottingham Trent University.
I started at Unilever just two weeks after turning 18, with the job title of ‘Research and Development Technologist’ in a department known as the Pepsi Lipton Joint Venture. One week in, I found myself on a plane to Cork, Ireland, marvelling at how the company I had just joined put so much faith into a fresh out of school apprentice, talk about being thrown in at the deep end. This was a vertical learning curve.
I joined a team that looked after the Global portfolio of Lipton Ice Tea formulations and innovation pipeline, working on a range of products and technologies including a milk based tea drink for China and on Lipton’s Global sugar reduction agenda as well as the development of fun and innovative flavours for different countries around the world.
Rotation on the apprenticeship is highly promoted and regarded as a valuable way of experiencing more about the business, so after two and a half years I decided it was time for change. I swapped with a fellow apprentice to move into a European team (which is where I am now, four years since I started). Still in beverages, working on Unilever’s European leaf tea brands, such as PG tips and Lipton. This was a new experience, being fully submersed in project management whilst training my taste buds to understand the intricacies of tea. Not a bad job really. I have to say, it’s great to be working on UK brands where I get to see the fruits of my labour every time I take a trip to the supermarket.
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