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Apprenticeship experience: Sterling Pharma Solutions

Chris Wiper (Sterling Pharma Solutions Ltd)

Created by Chris Wiper (Sterling Pharma Solutions Ltd), 22nd May 2019


Sterling Pharma Solutions Ltd is a leading supplier of active pharmaceutical ingredients (APIs), intermediates, chemistry and analytical services to the pharmaceutical industry. The business is celebrating its 50th year of operating from its site in Dudley, Northumberland, and now employs 400 people including 10 new apprentices this year.

Chris Wiper, Learning and Development Manager, explains what the 20% off-the-job training for apprentices at Sterling Pharma Solutions involves.

What kinds of roles can apprentices take on at Sterling Pharma?

We currently have more than 30 apprentices working across all areas of the business including engineering, IT, business administration, warehousing, as well as lab technicians and lab scientists. Last year we took on apprentices in manufacturing roles for the first time and this year we are adding apprenticeships in HR and HSE. We offer degree level apprenticeships and are looking into offering higher levels in the future.

We use apprenticeships to develop both new and existing talent – we offer level 3-5 apprenticeships to existing members of staff who are looking to upskill into managerial roles, and to existing managers who want to develop further.

How much time do apprentices spend on off-the-job training?

Most of our new talent apprentices spend one day a week at college and this makes up their 20% off-the-job training. However, our apprentices also undertake a great deal of additional training which is focused on helping them to develop in-workplace skills. All our apprentices have a workplace mentor and we also provide work shadowing, industrial visits to other sites, and also visits to local schools where our apprentices talk to pupils about their experience of learning and working as an apprentice.

What kinds of things do your apprentices do during their training?

It depends on their role but generally their day spent at college is theoretical training linked to achieving the qualifications for their role. Our engineering and manufacturing apprentices will also carry out practical work off-site before putting what they’ve learnt into practice in the workplace. We also send all our of new talent apprentices off-site for experiential training with Outward Bound. They work in groups to plan and undertake an expedition and this really helps them to develop skills like teamwork, time management, risk assessment and resilience.

Who delivers the training?

We work with a range of training providers and colleges to source the best quality training for our apprentices, including Gateshead College, TDR Training, Northern Skills Group, QA Apprenticeships and Derwentside College. In addition, training is sometimes outsourced to TTE or Newcastle College, depending on our requirements. Working with this range of providers means we can provide training to fit with the diverse range of roles our apprentices are taking on.

Our on-site training is often delivered by staff members including me, our safety department, our quality department, and of course the workplace mentors who help apprentices with the skills needed for their particular area of work.

How does this training benefit the employer?

It’s about shaping our apprentices into employees who have a long term future in our business, succession planning and helping to bring in new talent. The training benefits our current workforce as well – our workplace mentors are eager to share their knowledge which they have accumulated over many years and they take pride in helping train apprentices. If we don’t pass on that knowledge it can be lost, so the benefits to our business are huge. Young people coming into the business bring fresh new ideas and new ways of doing things – sometimes they introduce us to new technology, innovation and ideas that makes a real difference to our business.

How much flexibility do you as the employer have when deciding when training takes place and what it involves?

It’s important that we work with training providers who are willing to work in partnership. We have a symbiotic relationship which allows us to improve our apprenticeship programmes year on year and we also work in a consortium with other employers to help develop training that best meets our needs.

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Chris Wiper (Sterling Pharma Solutions Ltd)

Created by Chris Wiper (Sterling Pharma Solutions Ltd), 1 year ago, [last edited 1 year ago]