"At a time when the food manufacturing process is becoming ever more automated and businesses invest in the latest equipment to increase efficiencies the role of the Food Production Engineer is becoming increasingly important."
There are a number of disciplines for food manufacturing engineers to specialise in. Usually a site engineering team will be made up of a mix of electrical bias, mechanical bias and multiskilled engineers led by an Engineering Manager with jobs issued to them by a site engineering planner. Increasingly however food factories are investing in their engineering teams brining on specialist refrigeration engineers, automation engineers and Continuous Improvement Engineers.
There is no average day for a food manufacturing engineer, with many working on shift patterns to cover the 24/7 operation of the site engineers play a vital role in ensuring that the machinery is operational and running efficiently at all times. From setting up lines for production and change overs to reacting to breakdowns engineering teams are put under pressure from manufacturing departments to ensure down time is kept to a minimum. Some engineers who work on the night shift for example will also be given a schedule of planned maintenance whilst others will be specifically tasked with the installation of new machinery and continuous improvement projects.
Like any commercial engineering position the hours are varied and change between different food manufacturing sites, it is common for food manufacturing engineers to work a 37.5 hour week but a continental shift pattern of 4 days on 4 days off or a 50 hour week of rotating 06:00-14:00. 14:00 - finish is not unheard of. Engineers are also sometimes put 'on call' which means that whilst not at work the engineer will be the first point of contact should their be an issue with the machinery.
With many university students choosing other career paths over recent years and the food manufacturing process continuing to move towards automation there has been a skills shortage of entry level engineers in recent years food production engineering skills are in high demand with entry level salaries starting at over £30k per annum and often rising to over £60k for an experienced Engineering Manager as companies compete to secure the best talent. Some candidates from an Engineering background naturally move in to production or Operations Management as their detailed understanding of complex manufacturing equipment can often be vital in ensuring that downtime in the production process is kept to a minimum.
Since the introduction of the government apprenticeship levy in 2017 there are many opportunities for young people with a GCSE in Science, Maths and English to start at apprenticeship level. For those who wish to carry on in education, there are also a large number of food engineering degree courses with manufacturers often running graduate schemes to secure the brightest young engineering talent. These schemes are a great introduction to food engineering as they give the student experience of learning in a manufacturing environment and offer a guaranteed position and structured career path once the course is complete.
As technology continues to advance,there are a great number of opportunities for food production engineers to keep developing their skills throughout their career. This could be in the form of keeping up to date with the latest industry standards (i.e. 17th edition wiring regulations) or specialist training courses on machinery with companies like Ichida giving detailed introductions on how to set up and maintain their machines.
The career prospects for a good engineer are boundless with many apprentice engineers progressing to project management or site operations management positions as their careers develop. In between there are also a few different levels to go through including, team leader, Engineering Manager and Head of Engineering.
Aiden King joined a local food manufacturing business on an apprenticeship and has never looked back commenting, "I didn't really know what to do when I left school and it was purely by chance that I went to a careers fair in my final year where I first became aware of the food engineering apprenticeship scheme offered by my local college and a food manufacturing business. It was a great learning experience for me as my time was split between studying in a classroom and learning on the job.
At the end of the apprenticeship I had a nationally recognised qualification and a position with a food company and I have progressed with my current employer over a period of 10 years to the present day where I lead a team of 10 engineers. I am paid comparatively well for my local area and I have kept adding to my qualifications throughout my career.
The job can be tough at times with pressure from all departments when there is a machine breakdown but the satisfaction of the job is getting to the cause of the problem, resolving it and starting production as quickly as possible. I really enjoy my job and look forward to seeing what the future brings as food manufacturing equipment continues to advance."
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