Food production is by far the largest manufacturing sector in the UK – and is set to grow still further, thus offering superb career opportunities. It is also one of the most innovative sectors, driving change and constantly open to new ideas. There are, after all, thousands of new products being launched every year and constant innovation in terms of manufacturing techniques. In addition, the UK is the world leader in food production supply chain waste management programmes. It is not just major blue chip companies that are at the forefront of food development, there is significant growth among smaller companies from micro breweries to the creation of high quality organic products, even innovative methods of production such as via hydroponics or even growing salads deep underground in London.
Not surprisingly demand for highly qualified staff is intense. For people who want to develop a career in this sector, the sky is truly the limit. The scope of jobs on offer is extremely wide. It is not just production skills that are needed, production engineers also need to be computer experts and possess a knowledge of nutrition being able to assist with the development of products as well as the processes that enable those products to exist.
It is a highly pressurized area in which to work. Staff need to be committed, as production units work 24/7 and downtime can be expensive. Machines have to be kept running efficiently and continuously. Consumers need the food that is produced. Everyone needs to eat, which means there is a constant demand for the products being manufactured.
At every level in the company, engineers are closely involved in the day to day operation. Apprentices have the opportunity to gain qualifications, Multi skilling is encouraged allowing engineers to gain experience in mechanical and electrical engineering, in automation and robotics. The work can be extremely varied, from fixing conveyor belts to carrying out high level maintenance on intricate robot arms designed to handle the most delicate of materials such as lettuce leaves or slices of cucumber.
Trained engineers normally work shifts to ensure that production lines run efficiently and continuously. With experience, it is possible to move into supervisory roles managing a team of engineers. This encourages the development of management and man-management skills leading to key roles such as an Engineering Manager with total responsibility for a section of a factory.
Alternatively, an engineer may choose to take on product development roles which can involve responsibility for very high budgets. A production engineer may be responsible for installing millions of pounds worth of new equipment; or operating facilities such as the electrical and water systems for the entire plant.
Large businesses may appoint a Chief Engineer possessing management and strategic responsibilities. Some engineers move into operations and become a director, perhaps even ultimately managing director.
There can be little doubt that a engineer within food manufacturing has one of the most important, and crucial roles within any business operation. At every level within the business, the engineer is responsible for the well-being of millions of people, all those end users of the food being produced. Consumers trust the production facilities to provide safe, uncontaminated, nutritious food – and without food, no one can survive.
Making a career in food production offers responsibility, challenge and as much scope for advancement as anyone wants. Take the opportunities that are offered, learn new skills and be innovative for this is a business sector that will reflect the effort and training that is put into it.
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