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An engineering journey to food

19 December 2016

Suzanne Gill reports on the different journeys that young engineers are taking to find their way to the food industry. 

Every year, following the Appetite for Engineering Event, we hold the Food Processing awards to celebrate hard-working companies and individuals who are helping ensure that the UK food and beverage industry has the right tools to ensure continued success in an increasingly competitive global market.

One Food Processing award this year had four winners!  Why? Because we really couldn't choose between them. The Young Engineer of the Year award was created to reward those young people who, within their first few years in the industry, have demonstrated commitment and who have the potential to do great things within the sector. 

In common with other UK manufacturing sectors, the food sector is finding it increasingly difficult to recruit the high calibre, skilled workforce it needs to drive innovation, particularly engineers and scientists, which is an area where the food sector often misses out to what are considered by students to be more ‘sexy’ industries to work in. So, Food Processing felt it was only right to celebrate all of the hard-working young people who have made a commitment to the food sector, as they are vital to its future success.  Now certainly is not the time to judge one as being better than another. So, many congratulations to all of our winners – Kyle Brown, Charlie Hatt, Christian Dobson and Shaheed Khattak – and to the companies who have had the foresight to invest in their future. 

We decided to dig a bit deeper, looking at the journeys that our young engineers took to reach the food industry. 

Charlie Hatt and Kyle Brown both work for Allied Bakeries, part of Associated British Foods, a company which clearly understands the benefits of investing in their staffs' future.

Charlie Hatt is an electrical engineering apprentice at Allied Bakeries. He left school in and, after a few months at a local college, he made the decision to get onto an apprenticeship scheme, training to become a chef. A few years later, he realised that it wasn’t what he wanted to do. “I still wanted a job that was hands on, as I didn’t want to sit in an office all the day. After doing some research I decided on engineering. One of the reasons for this is because I read online that there were not a lot of young people taking up engineering and I thought it would be a good route to take.” 

Hatt applied to SETA, an engineering college based in Stockport and after online tests he was sent for an interview at Allied Bakeries.
As part of the interview he was shown around C Plant, where around million loafs are produced every week. “I thought it was incredible,” said Hatt. “When you see a loaf of bread in the supermarket you don’t realise how mass production really works and how much hard work goes into it.” Hatt was offered a job as an apprentice and hasn’t looked back since. He started college in September last year, learning skills such as fitting, mechanical maintenance, welding and electronics. He also started a Btec course and has achieved straight distinctions. “I’m now at Allied bakeries on day release doing my second year Btec and I’m really enjoying it,” continued Hatt. “Every day is different.” 

Why did Hatt choose to work in the food industry? “I felt that food manufacturing would be a great business to get into because it’s always growing and expanding. It is part of our everyday life and it won’t be going anywhere any time soon. This gives anyone in the industry excellent job security and there will be plenty of opportunities to move up through the company. Overall I think that becoming an engineer within the food industry was the best decision I have ever made. I’m learning new things every day, meeting new people and genuinely enjoying myself.”

Kyle Brown also works at Allied Bakeries, in Stockport, as an electrical engineering apprentice. He has just completed his third year with the company and has started an HNC in college. “When I left school I knew I wanted to work with my hands,” he said. 

At first Brown worked for a small engineering company before looking for a new apprenticeship, where he could learn much more. “It had never really crossed my mind that food companies need engineers. All I pictured when driving past food production factories was the finished product falling off the end of a conveyor…never about how much electrical and mechanical work goes into the product,” he said.

Like Hatt, after getting an interview at Allied Bakeries, and a tour around the bakery, he was very keen on the idea of a job there, having found out how much food production depends on engineering. “I made the right choice; today I am developing new skills and learning the process behind the product. I really enjoy working in this fast paced environment and I am well supported by Allied Bakeries and the engineering team.”

A multi-award winner
When Shaheed Khattak started working at Mondelez International when he was 17 he never could have believed what he would go on to achieve. He has already won the Food and Drink Federation Apprentice of the year award, and has also taken part in the World Skills Industrial Control competition. 

In 2012 he enrolled in an engineering apprenticeship. His first two years were spent at college completing a Btec Level 3 and an NVQ Level 3 – both in engineering. In his third year he was given the opportunity to take a Foundation Degree on day release while also gaining engineering experience from the Mondelez engineering team. Currently he is studying towards a full engineering degree through Aston University, financed by Mondelez, while also working as an engineering technician on the Crème Egg line. “Everything I have achieved would not have been possible without the support that Mondelez International has given me,” he concluded.

A different route
Chris Dobson took a very different route to the food industry. He had already gained qualifications in building studies and embarked on a career in architecture. Upon returning home from working abroad for four years, he took the opportunity to try a career change. He wanted to become an engineer and decided to take an extended degree at Sheffield Hallam, as this had a course structure that best met his needs and had prospects for further enhancement onto an engineering degree.

Working his way through the course, Dobson was invited to attend a presentation by the course leader for the MEng Food engineering degree. “Until that point I had not even thought about the food industry as an engineering option,” said Dobson. “The presentation really opened my eyes to the benefits that the food industry has to offer. The course has extensive industry backing with each student receiving support from an industry mentor and paid placements. The degree has a great mix of engineering and food modules and the placement provides valuable experience. My 12 week placement was at Premier Foods in Carlton, where I was lucky enough to work alongside the chief engineer who was able to share his many years of experience and knowledge with me.”
As the journeys each of our Food Processing Young Engineers of the Year demonstrate, outside of the food industry, there is still a real lack of knowledge about the wealth of engineering opportunities that exist within it. None of our engineers had even considered the food industry as a career option, initially.  

The food and beverage industry needs to get its collective thinking cap on to find a way to highlight what a career in the food sector is really like. The industry needs to attract around 120,000 new recruits over the next decade to ensure that the engineering knowledge is available to help companies remain agile enough to meet ever-faster changing retailer and consumer demands and to prepare to take over the reins from a predominantly ageing engineering workforce.

More food companies need to consider opening their doors to show potential employees the exciting opportunities that area available and to ensure that the industry has the skill sets and enthusiasm to remain competitive in the years to come.

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