MDS programme

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 £20,000 in the first year rising to £21,250 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

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 comprises of 25 days over two years and includes an induction session, residential training, and additional two-day seminars every six months.

The tutors are amongst the finest in their industry, picked from Cranfield Business School, specialist lecturers from leading organisations, and of course the talented MDS team who have years of experience coaching trainees.

Trainees develop skills in self-management, people management and learn how to manage a business. 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.

MDS Training – an illustration

Course 1
Four-day induction comprising of MDS in house training, Health and Safety course, Emergency First Aid in the work place and a team building day.

Course 2
Two-day Seminars every six months. This covers the following topics over the two years:

2a Coaching
2b Category Management (IGD)
2c Coaching
2d Supply Chain (IGD)

Course 3
Four-day course split into blocks of two days. The course has the elements of Effective Management and Motivational Leadership and is delivered by an outside tutor.

Course 4
Five-day residential course. Challenging existing practices will vary on the location and the business visited.

Course 5
Five-day course split into two blocks. This course is run by Cranfield Business School on Essential Management and includes the following:

Time Management

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?

Intakes of trainees are usually in April and October each year. We have between 12 and 15 trainees in each group.

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.

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 £20,000 in the first year, rising to £21,250 in year two. On completion, as you move into a permanent post, you should be capable of achieving a position paying at least £25,000, and often more.

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. 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.

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?

Click on the section ‘Apply online’ and complete our online application form. If you are unable to complete the form online, please e-mail your name and address and a form will be sent to you.

Fact file: Tom

What attracted you to the MDS grad scheme?

The first thing that struck me was the variety of placements and experience I’d be able gain in 2 years, which would normally take much longer. It’s a great advantage and a solid foundation for whatever career you may choose after MDS.

What would have been useful to know before you applied?

That MDS is not just working in a single environment. When I joined I didn’t know the variety of roles that were available, I never expected to be where I am now!

What’s been your best moment so far? 

I’d say that’s a draw. In my second role I got to travel the UK filming sprayer operators for a Syngenta competition, then edit and distribute the videos on social media; I loved it and it was great to get creative. The other moment would be whilst working in Basel, getting to bring in a project that will be used by the global team, and affect a lot of people in the organisation.

Fact file: Leah

What have you learnt from your current secondment?

Keep questioning everything. If you think of a better way of doing something, get the facts and back yourself. When placed in a large company where lots of people are involved in a process, often finding the root cause of a problem can be difficult. It’s important to keep motivated and not to be influenced by the opinions of those around you, find evidence and be sure you are confident you’ve got all the information before rushing straight to the solution.

How much responsibility have you got?

Being a product manager for our UK, French and Italian supply base has involved making lots of decisions that have direct cost implications. I have had senior manager support throughout my placement which has allowed me to discuss situations and seek guidance where necessary. My responsibilities have grown in line with my knowledge and now I am confident managing my category.

What’s been your biggest challenge on secondment?

A fully fledged leaf and veg product manager is the ‘expert’ within the business. Coming into the role my knowledge on this subject was very limited so I had to work hard to build my understanding enough to be confident in making decisions and educating others.

Fact file: Leyla

What was the interview process like?

One of the best interviews I have ever been to – I actually really enjoyed it! I felt like the answers came naturally, rather than memorising “good” answers they wanted to hear. I left feeling inspired and really hoping they would pick me, as I felt the scheme was 100% right for me.

What advice would you give someone applying for MDS?

Make sure you know what you’re signing up for and that it fits with your own goals.

Can you explain your plans post MDS?

Not 100% firmed up yet – too soon to tell. I am interested in exploring fruit and veg more as it’s a sector of the industry I have more personal interest in, as well as any aspects relating to organics and/or the healthy eating side of the industry.

Fact file: Jack

How has the formal training MDS provides been useful to you?

I’ve found the formal training to be really useful as it has allowed me to reflect and analyse myself whilst I’ve been at work. I have done this by using relevant frameworks and ideas presented to the group by the lecturers, as well as taking inspiration from other members of my group and the situations they have faced.

What way is it beneficial in your secondments?

I have found the main benefit of the formal training to be self-improvement. I am able to take the learning’s about myself, and apply them to how I carry out work in my present and future secondments. This is beneficial for my secondments because I  become better to work with.

Which course have you enjoyed the most so far and why?

For me, the leadership course was the best. This is because I felt our group really bonded together, and we each got to know the different personality types amongst us.