National Apprenticeship Week 2023: Earning, learning and chocolate with Mars Wrigley’s James Kinnaird

Posted on 6 Feb 2023 by James Devonshire

For manufacturing apprentice James Kinnaird, the idea of earning while learning was appealing. That's one of the reasons why he is pursuing an apprenticeship at Mars Wrigley UK (that and getting to work with chocolate, of course).

According to the latest ONS figures, there are currently 78,000 manufacturing job vacancies. And while this number has come down since January 2022 (when it was a dizzying 97,000), it is still more than triple what it was in May 2020, highlighting how manufacturers are still finding it extremely difficult to recruit and retain the right talent. Indeed, during our frequent conversations with manufacturing organisations, the ongoing skills shortage is industry’s biggest challenge right now.

That’s why initiatives that encourage younger generations to consider a career in manufacturing, such as National Apprenticeship Week 2023 (NAW2023), which kicks off today and runs until February 12, are so crucial for the sector’s long-term survival.

The Manufacturer’s James Devonshire sat down with James Kinnaird, 24, a manufacturing apprentice at Mars Wrigley UK, to find out why he has chosen the path he has.

JD: Have you always had an interest in manufacturing? If so, why? If not, what made you pursue an apprenticeship at Mars Wrigley UK?

I didn’t feel that university was the right path for me – I was looking to do something interesting, different and hands on. The manufacturing apprenticeship at Mars Wrigley really appealed to me as I liked the idea of earning and learning all while being part of a recognisable business… and importantly, getting to work with chocolate!

What does a typical day at work/college look like for you?

As an apprentice at Mars Wrigley, you spend 80% of your time on the job and 20% at college attending lessons and lectures in your field. I’ve always been good at working with my hands and hands-on learning, so I enjoy the practical side of things the most – despite it being an early start!

I’m in the factory from around 7am, and we head down to the production line for a handover from the previous shift. They tell us how the lines ran and if there are any issues to watch out for or to keep an eye on. Throughout the day we do quality checks and machinery checks – it’s all very hands-on. We’ll often shadow someone who will teach us about the different processes and parts and that’s always a good opportunity to ask questions and further develop your knowledge.

James Kinnaird, manufacturing apprentice at Mars Wrigley UK
James Kinnaird, manufacturing apprentice at Mars Wrigley UK

What do you find most rewarding about your apprenticeship?

An apprenticeship with Mars Wrigley gives you the opportunity to gain amazing experience, learn new skills and work with big name brands like Snickers, Maltesers, Galaxy and more. Being able to tell my friends and family that I work with these iconic brands and seeing the treats on shelves in shops is really rewarding and gives you a real sense of pride in your work!

I also enjoy getting to meet a wide range of people and making long term friends and connections. I like being given real responsibilities like a standard full-time employee, which has allowed me to develop very quickly.

Who or what has had the biggest influence on your career in manufacturing?

The mentors I’ve had at Mars Wrigley have been brilliant. They’re patient, experienced and always happy to give me the time to answer all my questions. The team of people I work with in the Slough factory have had a lot to do with how enjoyable my apprenticeship has been so far.

What’s the biggest challenge you have faced so far and how did you overcome it?

No day is the same at Mars Wrigley. You can’t predict what will happen in the factory, so you always have to be prepared to act quickly and think on your feet. It can be challenging on site at times because we’re responsible for operating heavy machinery, diagnosing faults, and repairing the equipment to ensure the nation gets their favourite chocolate treats. But working together as a team means we get the job done – everyone will go above and beyond to help you and make you feel supported.

Sustainability is a huge topic in manufacturing right now. What is Mars Wrigley UK doing in this area?

Sustainability is a big focus at Mars Wrigley and something we’re all consistently aware of each day. One of the steps I know Mars Wrigley UK is taking is accelerating its sustainable packaging programme, starting with reducing the packaging in packs of some of its most popular brands to save 51 tonnes of plastic per year. It’s an exciting time to be working in manufacturing and I’m looking forward to seeing what sustainable innovation is coming our way.

What advice do you have for any younger people who are considering an apprenticeship?

For anyone who is thinking about a career in manufacturing, an apprenticeship is a great place to start. It’s a mix of hands-on experience for those with a problem-solving mind and there is course work to do too. The best thing you can do is utilise every opportunity given to you and always try your best. It’s a brilliant career path and there is so much opportunity to grow if you just embrace it.

How can manufacturers come across as more attractive places to work for younger generations?

I think a lot of young people today value a workplace that gives them a chance for a big and bright future. Some people have been at Mars Wrigley for over 20 years and that shows what a good place it is to work. Mars Wrigley really invests in and values its apprentices and the contribution we make to the business. By giving us the opportunity to grow in our roles, we feel are empowered to take ownership of our career development.

What are your long-term plans?

Around 78% of apprentices continue at Mars after graduating – and I hope to be among them! I’m looking forward to embarking on an exciting career here for many years to come.

James Kinnaird is currently working towards the Level 3 Food and Drink Technical Operator qualification at Mars Wrigley’s Slough plant.

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