Tom Neal is the third Pfizer Trainee of the Year finalist

The third finalist for this year’s Pfizer Trainee of the Year Award is Cobb’s Tom Neal

Tom Neal saw a First Diploma in Animal Care as a route into a career, but it took longer than he ever imagined to get started.

He originally intended working with companion animals for a vet practice and frustrated at not being able to secure this type of role, he spent several years employed in a village grocery shop.

He was bored and seeking a new challenge when he saw the advert four years ago in the Eastern Daily Press that led to the beginning of his career with animals. Cobb Europe was seeking additional staff to introduce a new work rota system for its breeding unit at Wretton in west Norfolk.

“We were looking for people with potential and the will to improve – Tom impressed me as a caring kind of person and fitted the bill precisely,” recalls the unit manager Marty Spooner.

Wretton is far from a typical broiler breeder unit. Its original role as a quarantine farm for importing poultry stock explains its remote location, and today it houses 16,000 breeding stock that provide the eggs for hatching grandparents to supply Cobb’s franchise distributors in Europe, the Middle East and Africa.

“This unit is near the top of the breeding pyramid which makes the work all the more exacting and challenging,” says Mr Spooner. “Tom adapted well and now it all comes as second nature to him.”


How has training so far benefited your working?


My training has made me more aware of the legislation regarding the welfare and management of poultry. I have gained a marked increase in confidence with keeping daily records.

I am now able to problem solve and make minor decisions without always consulting my manager. However, I know my limitations and if I am in any doubt I always seek advice from a senior member of staff or manager.

While at work I am more alert and observant and notice things that I would probably not have seen before my training. I am more aware of my responsibilities.

What kind of training would you choose to help further your career?

It is my ambition to become a leader in the poultry industry and work for promotion within Cobb Europe and at the same time make use of the skills and abilities that I have already. If I were selected as the winner, I would undertake a foundation degree in poultry or management training.

I feel my future career with the company would benefit with training in information technology to improve my computer skills and abilities. I would like to increase my knowledge with poultry welfare and obtain some basic veterinary skills.


What special contribution does the candidate make to the unit/business and how has training benefited this?

Tom was nominated because of his enthusiasm and eagerness to learn and put into practice the new skills he has learned through training. He has become a valid and respected team member.

Our exacting standards at Cobb Europe demand attention to detail and Tom has developed the right attitude during his time with us.

Tom was also veager and persistent to do an NVQ level 3 which he has worked hard on and enjoyed doing.

His First Diploma in Animal Care helped him greatly with the transition into poultry husbandry, helping him to recognise the need for high standards of animal welfare and has improved understanding of animal health issues. He seems keen to learn more and we will support this and help him where we can.


The First Diploma in Animal Care is certainly not a traditional route into poultry. Tom Neal studied for this full-time level 2 qualification at the College of West Anglia at Wisbech. Then he went on with Cobb Europe to gain in March this year an NVQ level 3 in livestock production – poultry at Easton College, near Norwich.

“The First Diploma and National Diploma are a popular courses,” says Andrew Farley of Easton College. “Here at Easton we have about 100 full-time students doing animal care or animal management.

“Employers in the poultry industry might consider recruiting more people from this course, as it is seen as popular with young people and gives them an excellent grounding in animal welfare. In Tom’s case, the First Diploma and then NVQ level 3 makes for a good CV demonstrating good all-round knowledge, with good practical skills in poultry.

“He did his NVQ with us, and proved to be a very willing student, persisting till we were able to fund the qualification through Train to Gain.”

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