Sponsored degrees shape a positive future for employees and Fujifilm

A company-sponsored degree through FUJIFILM Ink Solutions Group creates opportunities for career progression for employees and innovative ideas that save time and resources for the business. We have been investing in our people for decades to develop their capabilities and expand their horizons, sponsoring BTECs, BSc, and MSc degrees in chemistry and engineering. 

“We fund people through the UK government’s apprenticeship degree scheme. The company values employees and their progression, including on-the-job progression. Current university students can also apply to our placement program. We are committed to people’s future in the company”, Wendy Boyd, Technical Manager, explains.

About 35 years ago, every employee had the choice of a sponsored degree. However, many dropped out of the program because it was tough to complete. This, combined with the increasing costs of further education to the company, means a rigorous interview process is now in place to select truly committed candidates. 

To be considered for a sponsored degree, the requirements ask for A levels or a BTEC equivalent, and to be committed to study part-time for five years on day release at the University of Greenwich – doing your job simultaneously. Some employees arrive straight from school with GCSEs in Science, Math, and English. They can apply through the company for a BTEC, the foundation for a degree, which takes about two years. Who’s awarded a sponsored degree, are looking at seven years of part-time education on top of the day job. 

People are often employed at the Group for two or three years, and then decide to apply for part-time education for career advancement or to broaden their experience. Technical Manager Nigel Gould, who interviews candidates, says: “Each May, there’s an announcement saying now is the time to put in your application. Applicants must send a covering letter to say why they are suitable. When the information is in, we interview them. We try to find people with a strong interest in science and chemistry. We’re looking for people with staying power and the drive, the ability to get through to the end.”

People often apply to the sponsored degree program several times, becoming more confident each go. It’s unusual for someone to get it the first time, but it is possible, as Francesca Wade recently proved. She graduated in 2022 with a Distinction in her Foundation degree in Engineering and a First-class bachelor’s degree in Mechanical Engineering Technology.

“The interview concentrated on the degree’s outcome. There were questions about the best engineering invention and where you see yourself progressing. I’d only been working as a full-time employee for a year, so it was daunting. But I had faith in my determination to get the best out of myself and made sure I worked hard”, Francesca explains. 

Given the investment in time and resources, Fujifilm expects people to stay for a specific time afterwards, although they are not prevented from working elsewhere within the company. Graduates of the program can apply for a new position when a vacancy arises.

Ben Mays graduated in September 2021 with a First-class BSc Honors degree in Chemistry and a Level 6 apprenticeship qualification as a Laboratory Scientist. After an interview, he was promoted from technician to chemist in R&D. “The university and the apprenticeship scheme had thoroughly prepped me for that, so I could show I was ready for the role. I could prove face-to-face that I knew what I knew, and I’d done what I’d done”, Ben says.  

Benefits of the sponsored degree program

What do graduates from the sponsored degree program gain and how does the company benefit? Francesca was going to university after A levels but, for various reasons, joined Fujifilm instead. “It worked in my favor because I do not have extortionate student debt, but I have seven years of work experience.”

Ben agrees: “A degree sponsored by a company is different, but I’d argue it’s better. It feels a more holistic way of doing a university course than being thrown in at the deep end straight from school, and there’s no student debt to take on.” He thinks one of the downsides is that he learned and studied topics that do not apply to what he does now, adding: “But when I was studying, I immediately knew the things that would be beneficial at work and were relevant to what I do so that I could apply those skills and knowledge immediately.”

However, at Fujifilm we believe that the research methods and topics that employees learn at university are advantageous even if they are not used in developing inks. “Students will be taught different ways of thinking and expand their curiosity. We’re focused on what we do every day, but their ideas give us more depth and research areas to investigate. That breadth of knowledge helps our product development”, Wendy Boyd explains. 

“The advantage of a degree is that it’s a quicker route to progression – graduates are noticed faster and given more responsibility. But it’s not the only route. If you do not have a degree, you can still progress at Fujifilm by dedicating yourself to aspects of what we do and becoming a specialist. When employees progress, the company progresses”, says Wendy.