MDS programme

MDS is launching new development schemes for April 2022. These include an Operations and Development programme and a Leadership and Management Programme. Full details will be on our website soon but if you would like to find out more please email Applications for all schemes are now open.


Read on for full details on our Graduate Scheme.


Graduates (known as Trainees) are placed in four different secondments over two years in up to four different Member companies and this could be anywhere in the UK with the possibility of some overseas placements. Secondments are combined with formal off-the-job training, coaching and mentoring. The Trainees are employed by MDS at a salary of £22,000 in the first year rising to £23,000 in the second year.

We are looking for candidates that:

  • Can demonstrate strong leadership potential.
  • Can respect the views of others.
  • Can set realistic and achievable goals, for themselves and others.
  • Like to get results.
  • Are able to identify and resolve problems.
  • Can use their own ideas and value the ideas of others.
  • Recognise the need for their own and others’ learning/development within a fast-moving industry


  • Relocation allowance of £300 when you move accommodation due to being seconded
  • Access to a £500 interest free loan should you need it
  • Employee Assistance Programme

Apply online


  • Trainees are employed by MDS for a minimum of two years
  • Trainees gain work experience via a series of secondments which are usually for a six month duration in different businesses
  • Secondment changeover usually takes place in April and October
  • Trainees will be allocated secondments based anywhere in the UK
  • There are some opportunities for secondments based outside of the UK if desired
  • There is normally a requirement to relocate every six months
  • Secondments aim to expose trainees to the whole supply chain
  • Secondments are allocated based on current ability, individual development needs, and experience to date
  • Trainees are supported throughout the programme by a designated Secondment Manager as well as the MDS team
  • Most trainees gain full time employment at the end of the MDS programme
  • For a list of current MDS Members click here

MDS Training

MDS delivers a widely-respected and renowned training programme that, year-after-year, gives trainees the skills they need to achieve credible positions within the food and fresh produce industry.

The training programme is a Level 5 Leadership and Management Apprenticeship, accredited by the Chartered Management Institute. This is delivered over 26 days off the job training, with assignments to complete in between modules.

The training programme has been developed with Quantet Group and combines leadership and management training with a focus on the food and fresh produce industry.

Modules include:

  • MDS Induction
  • Change Management
  • Managing and Developing Talent
  • Management Communication
  • Advanced Presentation Skills
  • Handling Difficult Conversations
  • Delegation
  • Finance
  • HR Masterclass
  • Operational Management

Each Trainee is assessed and receives tailored critique matched to their person development, ensuring a truly unique learning experience.

MDS’ impressive record of trainees moving into well-paid and responsible jobs on completion of the programme is testament to the first-class formal training and practical experience each trainee receives. Take a look at the MDS training journey (subject to change).

Trainee FAQs

Trainee FAQS

Can I choose my secondments?

The quick answer is no, as the purpose of MDS is to provide the widest possible opportunity to manage a variety of commercial situations and meet pre-set objectives. In reality, you would be consulted about location and type of job, but the decision is ultimately made by MDS.

How many places are there and when are the intakes?

There are 30 places available in total each year, with groups of up to 15 starting in April and October.

How are secondments assigned to trainees?

MDS look at the development needs of each trainee and match them to a suitable role. The idea is to place people in varying types of roles which they are capable of, but will stretch them. Once trainees have been assigned a secondment, they do an interview with the Member Company to confirm suitability.

What secondments are available?

Secondments vary depending on the season and on the changing needs of our member companies. However, as an illustration, common secondments include:

  • Quality assurance
  • Supply chain
  • Technical
  • Procurement
  • Commercial
  • Marketing
  • Harvest management
  • Logistics
  • Project management
What does career progression look like for MDS alumni?

The career paths of our 350+ alumni are wide and varied. Initially many MDS trainees go into middle management positions and they tend to progress rapidly after this thanks to the broad experiences and training they have received whilst on MDS. Examples of roles taken on by trainees immediately after MDS include:

  • Category Technologist
  • Logistics Manager
  • Account Executive
  • Assistant Farm Manager
  • Trainee Agronomist

After several further years experience, MDS trainees can be found at the most senior levels of organisations, including retailers, growers, suppliers market researchers and software providers. Take a look at the #MDSFutures section to hear from current and previous MDS trainees about their career paths.

What additional benefits are there to doing the scheme?

The variety of experience  in up to 4 member companies is so difficult to put a price tag on. However, this is what is cited time and time again by trainees as the most valuable elements of the MDS scheme. The other major benefit is the Management and Leadership Level 5 qualification, accredited by the Chartered Management Institute.

Here are some more of the benefits of completing the MDS Graduate Scheme:

  • Fast track entry into a fast-paced and innovative industry which is actively seeking fresh talent
  • Access to an extensive network of companies and industry contacts (via your secondments, training and networking events each 6 months)
  • Interview practice: you will be interviewed for each of your secondments, standing you in good stead for interviews for permanent roles
  • Your CV is circulated to all members each 6 months
  • Workplace pension
  • Two years to try a variety of roles and businesses before deciding where you fit best
  • Personal coaching from MDS staff and secondment managers at all placements to support you throughout the programme
  • Excellent and diverse career prospects. Farm Manager, Agronomist, HR Manager or Procurement Manager: the opportunities are extensive!
Will I gain a qualification?

Yes, you will gain a Level 5 Apprenticeship qualification in Leadership and Management (Operations/Departmental Standard). The course is accredited by the CMI so you will also achieve Chartered Management status.

Can I change my secondment if I don’t like it once I have started?

It would be very unusual to change mid-way through a placement. The aim is to provide a broad managerial experience, and that includes learning how to get results in challenging and sometimes difficult circumstances.

Do I get paid?

Yes. Trainees receive a salary of £22,000 in the first year, rising to £23,000 in year two. You can also receive relocation allowance of £300 if you move accommodation due to being seconded. Starting salaries average between £28,000 to £32,000 on completion of the scheme.

How much notice do I get of my next secondment?

We try to give as much notice as possible of when and where your next secondment will be. Occasionally, you may have only a couple of weeks to prepare, and arrange accommodation. In such a case, member companies will often help the transition by providing some initial bed and breakfast accommodation until you find your feet.

Who usually finds the accommodation while I am away?

It is up to you to find accommodation for each secondment, but there is often help available from the member company or other trainees who may have worked in that area. Trainees can also leave reviews of the accommodation they have used on the MDS trainee portal. You are responsible for the costs of your accommodation. Some member companies have houses or rooms available at a favourable rent.

What support is available from MDS Ltd and member companies?

The MDS management team keeps in regular contact throughout the two years, including at least one visit during each secondment. Additional day-to-day support is provided through a Secondment Manager within the member company as well as an informal network of other MDS trainees based locally. It’s there if you need it – you only have to ask!

Am I guaranteed a job when I finish MDS?

There are no absolute guarantees, but virtually all our successful trainees have progressed on to the kind of jobs they aspired to at the start. It is fair to say that for many of them, their aspirations on leaving university alter dramatically, once they realise what they are capable of in terms of managerial responsibility. They often surprise themselves at the quality of their first full-time post, as potential employers have confidence in their ability and knowledge of the industry achieved through the MDS programme.

Is there a deadline for applications to the programme?

We welcome applications at any time, and interview for positions throughout the year. Start dates are Spring or Autumn each year.

What is the holiday entitlement?

You are entitled to 28 days holiday per year including bank holidays.

Does MDS make a profit?

No. MDS is a non-profit making co-operative, registered as a Friendly Society with the Financial Services Authority.

What hours can I expect to work?

Hours of work depend on your secondment responsibilities, the type or role and the business needs of the company.

What will MDS give me that a full-time job in one company would not?

Some people are more confident about learning within one organisation but for others, the challenge of learning to manage and get good results in a commercial environment is best-achieved by putting their skills to the test in a variety of settings. In this way, they are faced with different people, cultures, products and systems – all within two years. MDS gives you the chance to learn management skills quickly and to test them out in different jobs and different companies.

How good is the ‘off-the-job’ training?

‘Second to none’ may be a cliche but we have many testimonials to this effect. The one thing we can guarantee is that the programme will feel very different from university lectures – it’s also great fun!

What does MDS Ltd look for when selecting Management Trainees?

Evidence of personal qualities… an understanding of the meaning of ‘taking responsibility’, a willingness to learn from your own actions and mistakes and an ability to initiate not just imitate and improve. Your style of management will respect the contribution of those around you, and you will be realistic in setting goals and targets, for yourself and others, and able to meet them (or understand why not).

How do I apply?

Go to the ‘Apply‘ tab and complete our online application form. If you are unable to complete the form online, please contact us and we will send you a form to complete.