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One engineer’s journey in the food sector

25 September 2016

Emma McLeod, principal engineer for Process Solutions Global Chocolate R&D Team at Mondelez International, talks to Food Processing about her engineering journey within the food sector.

Q. Why would you suggest a career in the food sector to young engineers?  What sets it apart from other industry sectors and what are the highlights?
A. It is great to be able to walk into a supermarket and see that all your hard work has made it onto the shelf.  Working in the food sector I have witnessed a huge number of new products coming to market and there is nothing quite like the excitement of launching a new product. For me, the biggest highlight is overcoming the challenges during development and working out how to manufacture a new product on a large scale. It’s what makes my job in FMCG really rewarding.

Q. What made you decide on a career in the food sector and what route did you take?
Having graduated in Chemical Engineering, I was successful in my application to the Cadbury graduate scheme at Bourneville, in the West Midlands (who doesn’t want to work with chocolate?) The graduate scheme gave me a vast insight into different opportunities within the business and I worked with a number of brilliant role models at that time. Throughout my time at Mondelez, the food sector has presented me with the opportunities and challenges that I’ve needed, and the business has been flexible enough to work around my family. I have also been able to expand my technical expertise over the years from the various engineering and research & development (R&D) roles.

Q. Does the food industry pose any particular challenges/opportunities for engineers – women engineers in particular?
Engineering in the food industry has the obvious challenge of food safety and hygiene that requires a very different approach to some other industries.  Equipment needs to be easily and efficiently cleaned – something that is not always easy to achieve.
Another challenge for process engineers in the food industry is that of scale.  Products start life in a kitchen, where skilled chefs and chocolatiers create wonderful products that then need to be produced on a much larger scale.  You need to ensure the time, temperature and mixing profile during the manufacturing stage enables brands to recreate the same flavours and textures as the product created in the kitchen. This needs an understanding of the science behind the product as well as the consumer perception of the flavours and textures.

In my current role, I am working with more women than I ever have in my career. Mondelez is passionate about all aspects of diversity, which leads to a wonderful office environment. Somewhere in the World there is always an excuse to celebrate and eat!

Q. How is Mondelez helping to address the skills gap in the UK and globally?
A. The skills gap is about much more than recruitment and attracting good people.  It is about training, mentoring and coaching to teach people the skills and knowledge they need to be productive quickly. Mondelez does this very successfully in a number of different ways. For example:
• Developing a culture of sharing information – subject matter experts are required to lead training sessions, coach people and coordinate others with expertise to build online ‘Toolkits’, which capture industry knowledge and best practice, so it doesn’t leave the business if one employee does and is always available globally.
• Knowledge management – encouraging a culture of writing up work into reports and having internal search engines to search the vast number of report, presentations, intranet sites that contain useful internal information.

Having training schemes for engineers to mentor and encourage them to quickly reach the external benchmark of becoming a chartered engineer.  Through this they focus on gaining the necessary skills and experiences that a good engineer needs. 

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