Bal  High Res

Name: Bal Singh

Age: 24

Job title: Operations manager

Company & location: Innovation Agri-Tech Group, Bracknell, Berkshire

Education: Featherstone High School. Currently still undertaking further engineering qualifications

Why did you decide to go for a career in food? I’ve always been quite a hands-on person, whether that’s mechanical, electrical, or even plumbing. Before finding IAG, I was doing more traditional engineering roles – working on cars, etc – but the idea of vertical farming has interested me since I first learnt about growing crops hydroponically at school. When the opportunity at IAG arose, I just went for it. Being an engineer working in vertical farming, there’s nothing else that compares. Having the opportunity to be part of creating technology to help produce food, and the sheer scale of where the industry could go is so exciting. A once-in-a-lifetime moment that I had to take.

Explain your job to us in a sentence (or two): When I’m on site, it’s management of the day-to-day operations, including looking after the small team that keeps the facility running and looking as good as it does. On the engineering side of things, my main role is to ensure all systems are running to optimum performance and correlating the research and development to see how we can increase the yield and create a better harvest and stronger plant overall.

What does a typical day look like for you? I’m sure lots of people say this, but genuinely no two days are the same at IAG. We often plan around six to seven weeks in advance, so we roughly know what’s around the corner, but every day is different. From team management to planning, to managing contractors and engineers, to working closely with the senior engineers and team. Especially in the build-up to the launch of our ground-breaking new grow room – Viridus. There is a lot going on, but working on this side of the food world is fantastic.

“The best part is understanding the potential future impact of what we’re doing”

Tell us about how you went about applying for your job. The interview process seemed straightforward – initially it was a phone interview, and then a second interview on site, and a more in-depth assessment of my mechanical, engineering and plumbing abilities. I then started working with IAG on part-time basis. Luckily, as my passion for the role grew so did the scope of work, and I’ve now been full time for the last five years.

What’s the best part about working for a food company? Seeing how the work that you put in on a day-to-day basis can really help elevate a product to the next level is brilliant. Plus, it gives you the chance to learn about things you wouldn’t even see from a more traditional engineering role. For example, I get to see so many different types of produce growing and understand intricate details about crop families and nutrients, for example.

At IAG specifically, the best part is understanding the potential future impact of what we’re doing. Systems like the ones we’re developing could help feed people around the world, including those living in poverty. There are a lot of hungry people, and if we can focus and work together, we could genuinely make a real difference. 

And what’s the biggest misconception people have about working in food & drink? With what we do especially, people often mistake vertical farming for organic produce. It’s so different – we don’t use soil, for starters, and here at IAG we’re also pesticide-free. The other one we often get is whether we’re growing real crops. Because of the way it looks, people often think it’s so futuristic it can’t be real!

What advice would you give to other young people looking to get into the food & drink industry? Don’t get bogged down in the ‘what’. Take a piece of paper, write down what you enjoy and what your key skills are, and go from there. It’s incredible where your skills can take you – and the food and drink industry has more roles that you can possibly imagine. Look into apprenticeships, explore the different options. And don’t be afraid to ask questions or for advice, as more often than not people will be more than happy to help.

What’s your ultimate career dream? Creating more than enough vertical farms around the globe to genuinely make an impact on how we grow food and potentially helping to contribute to the fight to end world hunger. I really do believe what we’re doing will help serve people more efficiently.

After that, space! What we’re creating could really be a product that could end up in space. If we really channelled our creativity, why not?

Interested in finding out more about food & drink careers? Check out GrocerJobs for the latest vacancies