Dale Farm apprenticeships a family affair for the Dallas’

Apprenticeships make a great pathway for those looking to build a career in food and drink, offering young people at the start of their career the opportunity to develop a wide range of skills and get a taste of working across various disciplines.

Dairy cooperative Dale Farm has run a successful higher-level apprenticeship (HLA) scheme since 2018, giving ambitious young people valuable workplace experience while also studying at colleges such as CAFRE, ultimately gaining a Foundation Degree in Food and Drink Manufacture. Dale Farm also works with South West College to offer a Level 3 Engineering Apprenticeship. To get a flavour of what an apprenticeship entails, we caught up with two Dale Farm team members currently on apprenticeship schemes.

Brother and sister Daniel and Christine Dallas are both 5 months into their apprenticeships, based at Dale Farm’s cheese factory at Dunmanbridge, outside Cookstown. Raised in a farming family in Stewartstown, Co Tyrone, Daniel and Christine grew up within the dairy industry, which has complemented their work at Dale Farm. An engineering apprentice, Daniel gets hands-on training and work experience. “Having grown up on the farm, agri-food is an industry I have been familiar with my whole life, and I love working in the industry from a different perspective, training as an engineer,” says Daniel.

Having considered going to university, both Christine and Daniel were attracted to apprenticeships as a way to learn on-the-job while earning a qualification. “Going for an apprenticeship was the perfect option for me. I was unsure about university, but I still wanted to learn while getting practical experience,” says Christine, who completes rotations across all functions in the factory. Through this role, she works across various departments at Dale Farm. “I started in milk intake and have now moved into the technical quality and bulk cheese part of the factory,” Christine continues. “I really enjoy working in food manufacturing, and seeing the journey of the milk that comes from our farmer suppliers then become the cheese that goes to customers and stocks fridges at homes across the country and beyond.”

Training in a work environment has enabled both Daniel and Christine to pick up invaluable technical, digital, and communication skills, while also working for a successful company close to home. “I love being part of the team at Dale Farm,” Daniel said. “From day one everyone has been welcoming, and it is great to be able to learn from colleagues across the business. Being on an apprenticeship is the best of both worlds, it’s not just learning in a classroom but actually getting practical experience, and the skills I’m developing are of course also being put to use back on the family farm too.”

Christine agrees, saying support from team members has helped her develop professionally. “Team members at all levels are encouraged and supported, giving us the tools to succeed and push on at Dale Farm. The exposure to different parts of the business is allowing me to build more skills that will be important whatever position I’m in next on my career journey,” Christine added.

Sibling rivalry doesn’t seem to be an issue for the Dallas’, and working with a family member at the same site does have its benefits as Christine and Daniel are able to share lifts to work.

So what advice would they give someone ready to start their career and considering an apprenticeship? “Go for it,” says Daniel. “Every day is different and there is always something new to learn. It can be a challenge working while studying at the same time, but it is rewarding, and I would definitely recommend the experience to anyone looking to start out in the food industry.”