Modern Apprenticeships at JK Thomson with Polaris Learning

Left to right: Enoch Robinson – Quality Assurance Manager and Matt Gibson – Technical Specialist

Polaris Learning has been working with JK Thomson on their Modern Apprenticeship programme for over 10 years now and in this time, over 200 apprentices have gone through the Modern Apprenticeship programme funded by Skills Development Scotland.

JK Thomson is a Scottish family run fish processing company which employs 140 people.  They have always recognised the need to increase and maintain the technical awareness of employees and this was a key driver for implementing the Modern Apprenticeship programme.  In 2014, they were delighted to achieve the SME Employer of the Year Award and have continued to build on this success.

Now, it is a requirement that all employees complete the Modern Apprenticeship qualification and in addition, all supervisors and managers have to complete the Modern Apprenticeship Level 3/SCQF 7.  The Modern Apprenticeship qualifications have become core to the company’s training plan and are at the heart of career succession.

I asked Enoch Robinson, Quality Assurance Manager at JK Thomson, what the benefit of the Modern Apprenticeship programme has been:

“Our people are much more comfortable and confident in their roles as a result of the apprenticeship programme. They are comfortable speaking to suppliers and auditors, they have taken ownership of their roles.  When we receive customer specifications each person knows what needs to be done, their role in doing it, and they get on and make it happen.”

When I asked what things would be like if Modern Apprenticeships did not exist, Enoch was very clear:

“The business would have toiled with new business, new customers and new products.  We would also not have had the structure that Modern Apprenticeships has given our training programme, shaping our approach and how we deliver it, and staff retention would have been a problem whereas now we are seen as a serious career option for many.  Winning awards is a bonus that we also never anticipated.”

In fact, the Modern Apprenticeship programme has benefitted JK Thomson in many ways:  providing a clear training and career path, consistency of product, improved technical skills, multi skilled employees, improved team working and finally, improved NPD which allowed JK Thomson to extend into added value processing.

Of course, the survival and growth of JK Thomson relies on success with customer/third party audits.  The significant increase in technical skills, the ability of employees to work with auditors and the resultant increase in confidence levels through the Modern Apprenticeship programme has been a key factor in the company’s success.

We talked about the other benefits of the Modern Apprenticeship programme to the business:

”It became apparent during the MA training that there was a lack of consistency between departments with on-the-floor training.  The Modern Apprenticeship programme allowed us to review how internal training was delivered.  This started with a Train the Trainer course for managers to ensure consistency in training between departments.  Then, working with Polaris Learning, we created a standard template that could be used for all department work instructions and procedures.  We involved production employees in developing these so they could take ownership of them”. 

We talked about what it is like working with Polaris Learning:

“Their passion, knowledge and expertise are very clear.  They work well with all our people, understanding all their roles and helping them to develop and do the best that they can.  They are very hands-on, happy to help in all areas and when things were really tough, during the height of COVID 19, they found different ways to work with us so that we could keep the Modern Apprenticeship programme going.

They add a lot of extras around the core programme as well and their trainers are always available and pleased to help.  Their smoking course which compliments our programme, is still the best course that I have ever been on!”

Enoch Robinson

I asked how the Modern Apprenticeship programme has changed over the last ten years since we started working with them and Enoch commented:

“The basic, core approach is still the same: Polaris Learning and myself discuss with the candidate what would be the best route and what they will need to do based on their role.  The biggest change now is that it is much easier to get people on board.  They know what to expect from the Modern Apprenticeship programme and are keen to get involved- at the start it was new and a bit unknown to them, but this is definitely not the case now”.

Finally, we talked about how the employees and have benefited from the Modern Apprenticeship programme and what their managers say.

Enoch commented:

“For employees, they can now link the practical aspects of their work with the theory that underpins their roles, understanding, for example, the shelf life of a product or food safety in much more depth.  When they complete the qualification, they are pleased to have done it and they can see the bigger picture, understanding how they fit into everything that is happening, not just what goes on at their own work station.  It also helps with retention as people can see how they can develop and it shows that we want to help them develop”.

Matt Gibson, Technical Specialist commented:

“There was someone in my department who just completed the Modern Apprenticeship qualification.  He used to be nervous to get involved with things but since completing the qualification, he is now more confident and he wants to learn new things which is a real change.  I can also see that people do good work here and it really helps them to see the impact that their roles have on the whole process, and why they are doing what they do.  This in turn helps everyone buy in more to what we are trying to achieve.”

We look forward to what lies ahead in the Modern Apprenticeship programme and our partnership with JK Thomson.

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