James Bell - Edit

Name: James Bell

Age: 22

Job title: Manufacturing apprentice fulfilling role as maintenance planner

Company & location: Weetabix, Kettering

Education: Northampton Academy, has A-Levels in business, IT and geography

Explain your job to us in a sentence (or two): I am currently a manufacturing apprentice fulfilling a role as maintenance planner in our most complex factory. The role requires me to work with a variety of contractors and internal Weetabix teams, ensuring we deliver what is promised to the business to help drive improvement. This can range from maintenance to help drive plant performance to the installation of new equipment and projects. For me to be in this position at my age and to have the influence and responsibility I do in such a big organisation is something that drives me every day.

What does a typical day look like to you? As the plant I work in operates a 24/7 shift pattern, I start my typical day updating myself with what’s happened overnight before going to the daily operations meeting. After this, my days are always varied. I must deliver a plan for each weekend shutdown – this entails communicating with different contractors, engineering and operation teams to ensure all stakeholders are happy and agree to the planned work. I manage our onsite contractors, ensuring I plan work safely and quickly, having to decide what is important and urgent so we can improve on safety, quality and productivity. As well as this I also help with new installations of equipment, or implementing one of my own projects.

Tell us about how you went about applying for your job. I found the Weetabix apprenticeship programme through a job site. The apprenticeship sounded really varied, and as at the time I didn’t know which department I wanted to work in, this was perfect for me. It was a two-stage interview: the first was a day-long assessment centre, including a problem-solving group discussion followed by a factory tour, presentation and interview. The day really gave me an insight into what the industry is like and allowed me to see if it was right for me.

What’s the best part about working for a food company? I love the fact that there are no two days the same – there are always different challenges and opportunities to improve our current ways of working. This provides me with new challenges every day. Not to mention being encouraged to eat a great breakfast every day, and knowing that you are providing a healthy breakfast for millions of people each morning.

I won highly commended apprentice of the year at the Food Excellence Awards 2018, which is something I can carry with me throughout my career. I was honoured to be nominated by Weetabix, but to be shortlisted and win highly commended was way above my expectations.

“Knowing that you are providing a healthy breakfast for millions of people each morning is something to be proud of”

And what’s the biggest misconception people have about working in food & drink? People think that breakdowns don’t happen and the images you see of production lines are all perfectly running without any issues 24/7. The idea that you press start and the line runs smoothly until the next shutdown just isn’t the case. As a maintenance planner it definitely adds complexities and stresses to the role, but any problems help drive us forward and ensures we’re always working with Weetabix’s strategy of ‘Change for Better’ in our mindset.

Another major misconception in the manufacturing side of the industry is that production is the most important thing – my training at Weetabix has taught me that safety is paramount above production.

What advice would you give to other young people looking to get into the food & drink industry? Just go for it… it really is as fast-paced as everyone says. Food and drink is a challenging industry and that makes each day completely different, which is something I really enjoy. 

What’s your ultimate career dream? I’d love to become a senior manager one day, responsible for a department or function within a large organisation. But one thing at a time and for now that’s being a maintenance planner within the flagship plant at Weetabix.

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