food engineers

Following the recent success of British Science Week – a 10-day celebration of science, engineering, technology and maths around the UK – it’s time to look at engineering through a new lens and showcase the range of engineering roles that are shaping the food manufacturing sector.

Few people think of food when it comes to engineering, but food manufacturing today is driven by science and data – and it’s heavily underpinned by engineering. In recent years, the sector has seen a technological revolution in the way food is made, with automation becoming more central to the way we work. These trends will result in the sector needing to attract more engineering talent, and to invest in developing the talent of tomorrow.

The good news for the sector is many young people today see engineering as an attractive career with good long-term prospects. Bakkavor recently commissioned a study to explore which subjects held the greatest appeal for tomorrow’s university students. Software design (33%) and engineering (31%) were the top choices as career paths with good prospects, ahead of many traditional professions such as medicine (29%), law (19%), teaching (16%) and banking (9%).

Set against these positive findings, the challenge for the food manufacturing industry is to attract engineering talent into the sector. Whilst many associate engineering with the automotive and construction industry, the truth is engineers have a crucial role to play in helping to feed the nation innovatively and safely.

Attracting and maintaining a healthy pipeline of engineering talent to the wider food industry is a real challenge. According to the Institute of Engineering & Technology, there is an estimated shortfall of over 173,000 workers in STEM sectors – an average of 10 unfilled roles per business in the UK.

To tackle this, the sector needs to challenge the perception of what being an engineer in the industry means today, as there are a myriad of roles available across the sector, from general maintenance engineers, software and systems control through to energy efficiency specialists.

At Bakkavor, engineers across our 21 UK factories play an integral part across our food safety and health & safety compliance, complex refrigeration strategies, building standards, equipment design and production line efficiency. They also play an important role in helping us to deliver on our sustainability targets. One of our recent large-scale projects has involved significant investment to upgrade our refrigeration systems and this has helped drive a reduction in our carbon emissions. Engineering apprenticeships are also a key part of our strategy.

Bringing in and shaping young engineering talent is an important investment in the future. We need to raise awareness about the complexity and sophistication involved in food production and the end-to-end processes involved. The task of making food manufacturing a first-choice career path for graduate engineers is a strategy the sector needs come together on.

Failing to attract more engineering talent is not an option for the future. We must change, and change successfully, to ensure the industry can meet consumer demand and remain sustainable. If the machinery or technology doesn’t work, the products can’t be manufactured, and customers don’t get their orders.

Engineers play a fundamental role. Without them, the sector would lack vital skills to ensure it can maintain production, develop more sustainable methods of manufacturing and, importantly, deliver on exacting food safety standards.