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Matthew Bailey - Foundry assistant manager, Europe (UK)

If you were faced with the choice of an apprenticeship with one of two giants of the business world - Unilever or Lord Alan Sugar from the UK TV show ‘The Apprentice’ – which would you choose? In a heartbeat, I’d pick Unilever. Over a single year, I travelled to Cannes, networked with business executives and played a pivotal role in partnering the world’s biggest brands with its most innovative startups.

Careers at Unilever

In 2014, upon completion of my A-Levels, I decided to apply for an apprenticeship programme at Unilever.

Once I’d seen all of the iconic brands that Unilever own – (and my favourites!) the love it or hate it Marmite spread, sumptuous Hellmann’s Mayonnaise, and my favourite brew PG Tips – I read up on what the business apprenticeship actually involved, I realised how promising an opportunity this was. The fact that the scheme could place me in any area of the business, from HR to brand development, shows how Unilever puts an importance in investing in future talent and millennials like me.

The application process

There are a number of stages to go through in the application. Each stage focuses on a different set of skills and all present a brilliant opportunity to highlight your strengths. The process includes online tests, a telephone interview, an open day and an assessment centre. It was daunting to stand up and present to 18 managers – but I found that the people at Unilever really go out of their way to put you at ease.

I’m thrilled to say that my application was successful and led to me being offered a job at the Unilever Foundry. This is an exciting and transcendent part of the business, where we look to forge business partnerships between innovative technology start-ups and our billion-dollar brands.

Everything was completely new to me but my team offered great support. One of my colleagues in particular, a graduate called Spyros, decided to take me under his wing and act as my mentor. He was a huge help in the early stages of the apprenticeship, educating me throughout the whole process.

I’ve also benefited from receiving excellent mentorship, playing an especially active role in both my personal and professional development.

Two months into the apprenticeship, we began building the website for the Foundry and I was asked to own the project, making me responsible for both building and launching a major Unilever website.

Moreover, I’m taking on more responsibilities by heading up the launch of our new Foundry Ideas platform. This is where Unilever brands set sustainability challenges to a growing database of users who are encouraged to submit solutions and the people with the best ideas are then invited to come in and pitch. It is really inspiring to work in a project like this where I could help connect the most creative minds to come up with ideas for social good – all via a Unilever platform.

Being given responsibility for something this high profile so early on in my career has been an amazing learning experience. The networking opportunities alone are incredible. I even had the honour of going to the biggest marketing event in Cannes this year, where I met a host of senior company executives while representing the Unilever Foundry at an innovation exhibition.

Exposure and responsibility

That’s one of the great things about doing an apprenticeship – the fact that you’re able to get so much exposure and responsibility at such a young age, and you don’t have to pay for that learning experience either. On the contrary, your company is paying you. It’s surprising, when you think about it, that apprenticeships aren’t more popular than they are.

For anyone who is thinking of applying, I want to mention that there’s more to an apprenticeship than career advancement. The opportunity to connect with an extremely diverse group of people across the organisation is worth its weight in gold.

I’m one of two apprentices in the Foundry team, and we both enjoy meeting with the apprentices who work in other areas of Unilever too, often going out together after work. It’s great to be part of a community like that and to have people you can share your experiences with; in fact, I now count some of my fellow apprentices among my very close friends.

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