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Apprenticeships providing opportunities for the next generation at Discovery Park 16 January, 2018

It’s good to know the future is in good hands, with Discovery Park providing the right environment for science and business to build the skills East Kent and the wider UK is going to need as it prepares to take on the world – post Brexit.

Here on site we are lucky to have many education providers and businesses giving young scientists, who will discover the next life-saving drug or the next disruptive technology, every chance to shine.

One such company is Centauri Therapeutics, one of a cluster of science companies located here in Sandwich, which is helping to put Discovery Park on the map as a centre of excellence for immunotherapeutic research.

The company has doubled in size over the last year, as global interest in its work has grown, but that hasn’t stopped it from remembering how it all started, and giving something back.

Apprentice Edward Rhodes has benefited from the company’s determination to seek out and develop tomorrow’s brightest talent, providing the 20-year old with every opportunity to learn and grow.

Apprenticeships at Discovery Park

It’s a story that is repeated across Discovery Park with other companies and organisations including Pfizer, Agalimmune, Venomtech, East Kent College and Canterbury Christ Church University giving young people every chance to not only learn about science, but to put it into practice.

Three years ago, Edward was a student at Sandwich Technology College with hazy plans to head off to university to study marine biology. He had done okay in his A-Levels, but had not achieved the grades he wanted, although it was enough for his chosen degree.

Over the summer of 2015, he caught up with a friend who had started with Pfizer as an apprentice the year before and started to doubt whether the direct route to university was right for him.

“He gave me the details for the government website – www.findapprenticeship.service.gov.uk – where you can access a list of all the apprenticeships available both locally and across England,” said Edward.

“I liked the fact he was working and using the science as well as studying for something. That really appealed to me. The fact it was here at Discovery Park and that he was enjoying it certainly helped too.

University is not the only route for learning

Edward successfully applied for a Level 3 apprenticeship with Centauri Therapeutics – or Altermune as it was then known – working as a lab technician, and studying for a BTEC and NVQ through East Kent College.

He graduated from that course in August this year with two distinction stars, one for the BTEC qualification, which gave him the theory and the NVQ, which was based on work place learning.  Edward had left school with a C in English Literature and a D and E in double science.

“I was pretty proud to have achieved that. It was a different way of learning and it told me that I clearly thrived on getting involved and being hands on rather than being sat in a classroom.

“It was also great being here at Discovery Park, and being able to be in the lab, but also cross over the road to see my tutors, if I needed to and to mix with and learn from all the other apprentices working here on site.”

Growing in confidence and ability

Edward has now embarked on a 4.5-year degree level Level 5 apprenticeship, that will put letters after his name, a BSc in Applied BioScience. Centauri Therapeutics are again providing him with industry laboratory experience, with the academic side of his studies supported by the University of Kent.

“I’m four days in the lab and then get a day a week for study. In my first apprenticeship, I learned all the basics. Now, it’s getting a lot more difficult, but I’m loving it.

“When I started here in 2015, I was given the grounding from lab stocks to ordering and began to learn how to do some science. Now I’ve got to the stage where I am now independently planning my own experiments and analysis and presenting it back to my supervisor.

“While the degree is more difficult, I am understanding it a lot more because I’m using what I learn every day, I can see the science in practice.”

Edward is also growing in confidence. When he began in 2015, coming out of a school and into a working environment was daunting.

“When I first started here, I was really shy. Now I plan and do my own work.”

Apprenticeships helping to develop future skills

Once the degree is completed, Edward is looking to complete a masters degree, although he may give himself a short study break first. His hope is to remain part of the Centauri team.

“I love it here; the science is exciting with the potential to save lives. I want to be a part of that.”

As for advice for young scientists now thinking of what route they should take, Edward has nothing but praise for apprenticeships as an alternative to the usual college route.

“My advice is go and look at the opportunities, all the online info that’s out there and get in touch with people who are doing it. For me, I wasn’t sure on university. This was a different route of going about it, and it’s worked.”

Mike Westby, CEO, Centauri Therapeutics, said: “Ed is continuing to prove himself a highly valued member of our team. It has been rewarding to see him develop as an enthusiastic, capable and ambitious scientist.

“I would encourage any company, however small, to consider participating in the apprenticeship scheme.”