Apprentices – A Local World Class Workforce!

River Cottage Front of House Apprentice with sweet canape
River Cottage Front of House Apprentice Stephanie Thorpe  (Photo – Nick Hook)

Following an Apprenticeship Summit earlier in the day, employers, training providers and summit delegates participated in an evening Apprenticeship Employer Engagement Event in the threshing barn at River Cottage HQ. Apart from the unusual dress code of ‘work wear with wellies and waterproofs’, the state-of-the art kitchens, the unusual tractor trailer shuttle service, and the warmest of welcomes, an event at River Cottage provided a timely reminder of the rurality of our county, and the talent, imagination and potential of the people.

Top 100 Apprenticeship Employer River Cottage, organised apprentices studying for both Professional Cookery, and Food and Beverage Service to create and serve a selection of savoury and sweet canapés to appreciative participants before Hugh Fearnly-Whittingstall set the scene for the evening by saying:

I’m privileged to have worked in cookery, writing, television, but I have to say the thing I’m most proud about is our apprenticeship programme at River Cottage.”

Mark Shepherd, Chair of the Exeter and Heart of Devon Employment and Skills Board then introduced the panel to the guests and opened an interactive hour of discussion which included a range of topics from micro business considering employing apprentices for the first time, through to major employers wishing to combat their ageing workforce through an investment in younger people and more apprentices. Discussion about the need for better Information, Advice and Guidance, and the role of parents, schools & colleges, and employers, and their attitudes to Apprenticeships proved to be an underlying theme.

Cathie Kessell mentioned that the ‘Employer Spotlights’ on the local pages of the National Careers Service website, which enable young people to arrange to speak to employers for more in-depth enquiries, can help better inform career choices.  More employers are needed to volunteer for the service in order for a range of sectors and roles to be better represented.

Although the range of apprenticeship programmes and levels is extensive, some discussion centered around the need to develop new areas such as fundraising or within the dynamic digital world.

Questions were raised about the process of developing new apprenticeships and the ease of changing track for apprentices. Jacob Trevains from River Cottage spoke about his own experience of change from cookery to Front of House. Further notes from this discussion are being collated, along with those from the earlier summit, for distribution. The expert panel comprised:

Jane Boulton Axminster Tools and Machinery
Sam Lomas Graduate River Cottage Apprentice
Cathie Kessell National Careers Service
Chris Stevens City & Guilds
Tony Skeel Skills Funding Agency

Employers wishing to find out more about ‘Employer Spotlights’ and opportunities to volunteer their time for scheduled telephone conversations with young people about their sector, business or their job role should contact: Further information about apprenticeships for employers, potential apprentices and parents, visit the website or enquiries can be sent to or


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