Georgia Knight, R&D Apprentice
Posted: 30th of November 2017 by Emily Dujon
“Everyone has their own learning styles but for me, learning by doing is without a doubt the most effective. In school, I really loved the practical elements in chemistry or field trips in geography where I could see practical science in action ,this is one of the major reasons I decided an apprenticeship was for me. It gives me the opportunity to continue my education at university but simultaneously work on real projects, learn from experienced professionals using state of the art technology and have an impact in the real world. At Unilever, I am given the opportunity to experience placements in different areas of R&D so that I can figure out which suits me best throughout the programme. Being an apprentice also means I can be financially independent avoiding huge student debt and the experience I’m getting is invaluable.
So far, I have really enjoyed learning how to use many pieces of high tech equipment in the Labs, from measuring the colour and analysing the components of tea, to creating prototypes of new carton ideas for ice cream, by using the printer, cutting table and glue guns. There is also a lot of machines for materials testing in the packaging lab, which has been really useful for some of the work I’ve been involved in. I also love the fact that everyone here is so happy to help and friendly.
The site is beautiful to go for walks around and there’s lots of things to get involved with, from sports at lunch time, to a choir and Christmas pantos. A little fresh air is sometimes all I need to return to my desk and have a really productive day!
I ask a LOT of questions. I used to feel bad about wasting people’s time or disturbing them and worry that my questions were stupid, but I’ve been given some very valuable advice to just ask away. If you’ve searched other resources available such as the internet and aren’t sure of the answer, it’s always best to then ask someone to gain a deeper understanding and ensure your work will be better rather than attempt something you’re not sure about, which could be very unsafe in certain environments like a laboratory.
Before I began the programme, I didn’t really think about all the different aspects of Research and Development that are vital before a product can end up in consumer homes. It’s a lot more than just designing a new flavour of Ben and Jerrys, there’s the packaging, processes, nutrition, consumer insights, safety and many other things to think about! This means my role is a lot more varied than I expected as I will rotate through different teams. I may be studying chemistry at university, but in my role in the packaging team I have learned loads about physics, engineering and design which is really interesting and pushes me out of my comfort zone as it’s not an area I had much prior knowledge in.
I have been given a lot more responsibility than I expected. I have recently become room keeper for the packaging lab so I’m in charge of making sure all our supplies of 3D printer ink, board for prototyping etc. are topped up and maintaining and training colleagues on the pieces of prototyping and testing equipment we have such as the cutting table, 3D printer and tear tester.
Unilever is also extremely focussed on leading the way in sustainability, which is evident on the website, but before researching the company prior to my application I had presumed that this may often be put aside for profitability, which is not the case. There’s a lot of work going into all aspects of reducing our impact on the planet.
The advice I would give anyone considering an Apprenticeship at Unilever is don’t be afraid of applying for an apprenticeship - just go ahead and do it. Even if you’re considering other options such as full time university, it’s always good to keep your options open. The application process is not a walk in the park but is also not as scary as you may imagine, as long as you’ve done your research. Learn about the business and use the resources sent to you to prepare for your interview. If you do get to the interview stage, everyone is super friendly and they are not trying to catch you out. Just see it as an opportunity to show Unilever what you’ve got to offer. You’ve got nothing to lose and could land your dream job if you impress! Even if you’re not successful, the process of applying is a good way to practice and gain experience for future applications.”