Meet the Team: Gretta Ryan – Head of People Development

In this blog, the second edition to the Meet the Team series, we spoke to Gretta Ryan to discover her journey to MDS and find out her advice for new Trainees!

What drew you towards MDS?

Working at MDS gives me the opportunity to support young people in their careers and help them gain access to full time roles within their chosen fields. I liked the ethos of MDS being a not-for-profit business and where the product are the people.

How does your role as Head of PD align with your goals and values?

I have benefitted from having great managers and mentors throughout my career. As a result, I discovered the difference that anyone can make to those around them when talking about their experiences, how they manage difficult situations or simply by providing another perspective. I take this into my role as Head of People Development, as working with Trainees offers me the chance to support and guide them through their MDS journey, as they gain industry experience and develop themselves as professionals.

What was something you wish you knew before you embarked on a career in marketing?

I had the opportunity to move into Marketing as a result the manager of a previous employer leaving the business. At the time, my mantra was ‘well how difficult can it be?’, I soon found out, leading numerous product exhibitions on different scales. Going in to the role, I wish I had known how important it was/is to walk in the customers shoes and the skill required in crafting the right message in a user-friendly way.

What excites you most about the agri-food industry? And what surprised you?

I have been on a very steep learning curve with regards to the roles and opportunities that the industry offers, continuing to learn every day. I enjoy the fact that the food supply chain is fast-paced and ever-changing.

If you were a Trainee, how would you prepare yourself for your next secondment?

Our Members have different approaches when it comes to meeting a Trainee – some Members may put you through a full interview which can be nerve-wracking but it great practice and experience. With this in mind, I would always be prepared for an interview – be curious, research the business and have some questions ready.

Some of the questions you could ask are:

  • What does a successful secondment look like for you?
  • What qualities would you like to see demonstrated – what are the priorities of the role?
  • What are the deliverables and do you have a timeline in which you would want to see these achieved in?

Use the Secondment Request Form to align your prior experience with what the company wants in an employee. Never assume that by being introduced, a Member is going to say yes to you – you have to show the qualities that Members look for, ambition, drive, can do attitude etc. Find out if there is already a Trainee in the role and contact them for advice, remembering that everyone’s experiences are unique.

How do you deal with being away from home/ moving to an unfamiliar place?

The majority of our Trainees will have completed their degrees at universities which will have meant moving away from home. Moving to different companies is a key part of the MDS programme and the programme, however, this together with joining different companies every six months with high expectations of you, ensures that both your confidence and resilience grow. Having worked with Trainees for five years, I think it is only at the end of the programme that a Trainee truly sees how far they have developed and moving on a regular basis is part of that development. On a social level, I would advise pursuing your hobbies and joining clubs – look and see if the Members have any groups/ social settings etc that you get involved with.

What would you say to a Trainee having a tough day at the office? How do you pick yourself up?

Recently I watched a YouTube video with Tom Hanks and other actors and he was asked the same question – his response was ‘This too shall pass’. We don’t tend to learn from success, we learn from failure and I feel it is important to maintain perspective – this too shall pass!

Be consciously aware that during this secondment, you are there to deliver and develop –  remember that a secondment is not your full time role – and if you feel that you are out of your comfort zone, you will be gaining great experience as this is where our learning takes place.

Feedback is necessary for our development, what would you say to someone less open to it?

Feedback can be hard to hear irrespective of age or experience.  I would say it is important to remember that feedback should be on a behaviour and not personal and should be given as a means of a positive contribution.

The common saying that feedback is a gift is also true – my suggestion is if you are someone who finds it uncomfortable taking feedback to agree to always listen, thank the person providing the comment (as giving feedback can be difficult as well) and go away and think about it. It is then up to you what you do with it – remember to be honest with yourself.

What would be your top tips for Trainees about to start on their MDS journey?

  • Be open minded and be curious
  • Develop your self awareness
  • A secondment is not your full time role
  • Understand that you are on a two year development programme
  • Aim to be the best at what you do
  • Remember your professional footprint
  • Look after yourself – ensure you do what you enjoy as a means of relaxing

What role do you believe MDS plays in developing future leaders in the agri-food industry? And how do you go about facilitating continuous learning and development?

The MDS scheme has been very successful for many years, with Alumni now in positions where they are introducing MDS to their business’. MDS needs to continue attracting high calibre individuals who want a career in the sector; ensuring they have the professional development to enable them to pursue a career within our Membership and the wider industry.

Continuous Learning and development comes from many different sources – Members, Secondment Managers, People Development and The Apprenticeship College for example. We are also about to introduce a new learning package which will allow Trainees to access many more training courses which they can benefit from. MDS will also look at events within the industry and offer proactive Trainees the opportunity to attend which not only helps with gaining knowledge but also networking.