Appetite for confection – Cooking up a career in food engineering

Chris Dobson is currently studying for a MEng in food engineering at Sheffield Hallam University. The course involves paid work placements with some of the food and drink industry’s biggest names, including the companies behind brands such as Cadbury’s Dairy Milk, Lurpak, Walkers Crisps and Mr Kipling. Chris spoke to The Student Engineer about the course, his work placement with Premier Foods, and the role that robots and automation have to play in the industry. 

Sheffield Hallam University's new courses involve work placement with some of the industry's biggest brands.
Sheffield Hallam University’s new courses involve work placement with some of the industry’s biggest brands.

What attracted you to the food engineering course at Sheffield Hallam University? 

I attended a presentation run by Andy Rawsthorne, course leader at Sheffield Hallam University, to see what opportunities the MEng Food engineering degree could offer. I was very impressed with the support from industry and the fact that paid placements were available, giving valuable work experience, and as a mature student this is vital for the summer months. I had never thought about engineering in the food industry or what opportunities were available, but after the presentation I knew that this course offered a more stable and unique future.  

Did you consider other types of engineering courses as well?

At the start of my academic career I had my sights set on a mechanical engineering degree, but this had a lot of unknowns for me as a mature student – in particularly whether I would be able to get placements during the summer holidays and how difficult it would be to get a job at the end. 

What does the course involve? What are the most interesting/challenging aspects?

I have completed my first year and I feel the course has a good mix of engineering and food subjects. I’ve enjoyed every aspect of the course and the content has prepared me for my placement. Being a mechanically minded person helped me with the engineering side of this course. The food subjects were a little more challenging and required more time and effort to learn, but all have proved extremely interesting.  

Is there a particular part of the food and drink industry that you would like to work in, and if so, why?

I think every part of the food industry will be an exciting and fast paced environment. I’m currently on my first placement at Premier Foods and I’ve enjoyed every minute. The food industry is such a diverse sector offering many possibilities that I’m going into it with an open mind.

How important was the 12-week work placement in terms of your decision to apply for the course? 

My 12-week placement has been more of a reinforcing tool, making me realise that I’ve made the right choice. The food industry is a challenging industry that requires engineers with a diverse set of skills, and the 12-week placement has been vital in my development. 

Chris says working in the food sector is fact-paced and challenging.
Chris says working in the food sector is fact-paced and challenging.

How has your placement unfolded so far? What have you learned? What has surprised you?

Working alongside managers and engineers has given me an insight into the roles of each profession. During my placement I’ve learnt about planning systems and techniques, management strategies and people management. I’ve also had the opportunity to get management level knowledge as well as hands on experience in the factory.

Being in such a fast moving industry, you really have to think on your feet and be ready for any challenge, which has been a brilliant and exciting learning environment.

I can say with all honesty that my placement at Premier Foods has far exceeded my expectations and I have learned far more than I thought I would – everyone at Premier Foods is eager to share their skills and knowledge and offer as much support as possible. 

What are your plans for when you finish your studies in Sheffield?

During my placements I am gathering as much experience and knowledge as possible, but more importantly I’m going to stay in contact with all my work colleagues from these placements. This course has a lot of industry backing from multinational companies so by the end of my course I feel confident that there will be many job offers. 

What advice would you give to young engineers considering a career in food and drink?

Firstly, I would congratulate the student on making the best choice for their future. The food industry has a massive demand for engineers and this demand is fuelling the MEng food engineering degree. I’d advise young engineers to look at the opportunities offered by the food industry and by this course, particularly considering the long term benefits from such a significant level of industry backing. 

The food manufacturing industry is one of the largest sectors in most countries and these companies are investing heavily in robotics and automation to meet the challenging demands of new products and volume – the next generation of food engineers will be highly skilled in a fast paced and diverse industry.  

Sheffield Hallam University launched its MEng course in food engineering last September, and its BEng in this June. The courses involve a 12-week work placement, paid at up to £17,000 pro rata. For more information on careers in food engineering, visit