Recipe for success

The food and drink industry may not seem the first stop for engineers but parts of the sector are expanding and there are vacancies in many disciplines. Julia Pierce reports.

The food and drink sector is the country’s largest single employer, with more than 3.5 million staff throughout the UK.

However, despite its size and the many opportunities it offers engineers, it is often not the first port of call for prospective employees, who may not know where they can fit in.

‘We employ engineers in the following disciplines — mechanical, electrical, process, production and chemical,’ said Jonathan Cooper, technical training manager at Cadbury Schweppes.

‘The roles fall into three broad categories — projects, development and operations. Within our business the demand for people from these disciplines increases every year. However, recruiting is challenging because Cadbury Schweppes is not immediately associated with the engineering sector, yet we have much to offer.’

According to the Food and Drink Federation, food and drink manufacturing has an annual turnover of more than £66bn, based on 2005 figures. Meanwhile, consumer spending on food and drink represents 21 per cent of the UK’s national consumer expenditure, and there over 6,500 companies in the UK associated with food and drink production and sales, accounting for 12 per cent of jobs in the country.

Though the sector is doing well, there are areas within it where particular expansion is occurring. ‘In general, the soft drinks sector is just about holding its own and is neither expanding nor contracting,’ said Neville Sheldrake, capital projects manager for the UK at Coca-Cola. ‘However, water and juices are a real growth industry.’

The wines, beers and spirits sector is another area where many jobs are being created, opening up various opportunities for those with engineering qualifications.

Drinks manufacturer Diageo, owner of brands including Guinness and Bells, operates at more than 50 sites, most located in Scotland or the north of England. It is now looking for a range of engineering staff across its brands.

‘We are looking for engineering technicians, particularly electrical and mechanical engineers as well as maintenance technicians on an ongoing basis,’ said John Crawford, resourcing specialist, UK supply, at Diageo.

‘We encourage people to take responsibility and be creative. Our engineers support and contribute to strategies as well as coming up with ideas. They self-manage and are also able to improve the business.’

Like many companies in the food and drink sector, Diageo is keen to recruit as many staff as possible from within its own company, ensuring they have the requisite experience for the job.

However, it is also willing to look beyond its own walls. ‘We have a very broad attraction policy,’ said Crawford’s colleague, resourcing manager Julian Bell. ‘The qualities of leadership coupled with management ability and energy are highly prized.’

More important is whether a candidate has the personality to fit into the firm. ‘How people go about this is just as important as what they do and what they achieve,’ said Bell. ‘The feedback we get is that our culture is open and honest,’ he added. ‘We operate a meritocracy and promote people based on performance rather than length of service.’

Those outside the industry should not be put off applying, even to higher-level positions.

Coca-Cola’s Sheldrake will soon be looking for a senior projects manager, one of four reporting to him. ‘We are looking for either a mechanical or electrical engineer with previous experience of the fast-moving consumer goods (FMCG) sector or even processing,’ he said. ‘We normally try to recruit internally. However, last time we recruited externally we employed a person from the printing industry who had previous FMCG experience.’

Like many large employers, Diageo always has more applicants than there are positions to fill. But runners-up need not feel disheartened, as the company earmarks the CVs of those with potential for future reference.

‘As part of our recruitment and assessment process we are focused on the behavioural element. As far as we are concerned, this is as important as the technical capabilities of our applicants. We have a talent pipeline where we store the information of promising applicants for future reference,’ said Crawford. ‘It means we are able to call on them when a position arises.’

He noted that at present, positions are coming up on a regular basis. ‘There seems to be a growing market at the moment,’ said Crawford. ‘The market for engineers in Scotland in particular is very buoyant. It is almost an engineer’s paradise.

‘People in the food and drink industry have the ability to select a role tailored to exactly what they want, as well as having the luxury of picking and choosing who they want to work with. At Diageo, as well as a good salary, engineers have perks including shares.’

The company also offers a defined benefit pension scheme. Along with the competitive salaries, such additional benefits are a key feature of the industry.

Kraft Foods, operator of the world’s largest soluble coffee factory at Banbury, offers benefits including a final salary pension scheme, 27 days’ holiday, life assurance and also discounts on products such as travel and car insurance.

Entrants are assigned a mentor who co-ordinates a defined career programme ensuring that each role has a clear set of objectives that creates a career that is heading in the direction the employee wishes it to take.

The company regularly recruits mechanical, electrical and civil engineers at Banbury and also at its confectionery manufacturing centres across the country.

Meanwhile, in response to the changing demands of the modern workforce, Britvic — whose brands include Robinsons, Tango and Pepsi — has created the My Choice benefits concept, which allows engineers to pick the perks that most appeal to their particular needs and lifestyle.

Within the benefits package they offer an attractive pension scheme, life assurance, competitive rates of annual leave with the option to buy or sell days to suit, and, for eligible employees, private healthcare or a company vehicle.

As part of a flexible benefits scheme, employees also have the opportunity of joining dental healthcare and health cash plans, undergoing health screening with Nuffield Hospitals and purchasing childcare vouchers.

The scheme has been specifically developed to appeal to younger applicants, who may have a greater awareness of the concept of life outside work than previous generations, and for whom work/life balance is more than just a phrase.

According to Cooper, of Cadbury Schweppes, the variety offered by such a vibrant industry is another principal attraction. ‘The great advantage of joining a food manufacturer is that you can experience such a broad range of technology,’ he said.

‘You can apply your knowledge in many ways, whether it’s managing projects, developing products and plant to manufacture these or maintaining and improving the performance of our existing assets.’

Then there is the additional attraction of working for a household name. ‘Many people want to see the Coca-Cola name on their CV,’ said Sheldrake. ‘We give employees a significant amount of training, including management training, which is typical of what people expect from a blue-chip company. That’s what attracted me to the industry myself.’