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Food Manufacturing: Graduate Area of Work
Engineers are the essential link in getting food to consumers’ tables. There are many job opportunities for graduate engineers, and you may even get the chance to travel!
The food manufacturing industry in Singapore extends across a huge range of products: from flavours and sauces to ready-made meals, confectionery, and beverages.
Employers in this industry include large FMCG companies like Nestlé and Suntory, fast food companies, food merchandisers, or producers of edible additives.
Plenty of major players in the global processed food industry have strong manufacturing presences in Singapore, since its position as a regional logistics hub allows for easy export to other ASEAN countries and to global markets.
As such, engineers play an important role in this industry’s supply chain – they are the ones managing the processes, equipment, supplies, and distribution channels to ensure that high-quality food products successfully reach the customer.
Trends and developments in food manufacturing
Unmanned equipment and automated processes are the watchwords in this industry, and it is up to engineers to discover solutions to optimise production while maintaining constant quality.
Increased automation, however, has made it easier for the major industry players to consolidate their operations, so make it a point to keep up with such exchanges. Know who is acquiring who, and consider the impacts that it may have on the industry – both short and long term.
Another growing trend is also the focus on organic ingredients or socially-responsible food processing, as a more health-aware and socially-conscious generation holds production practices along the food manufacturing supply chain up to deeper scrutiny.
For this industry, timely yet hygienic delivery is a perpetual pursuit – food items are highly perishable, and must be delivered with minimal risk of contamination.
Further complicating matters are the drastically varying shelf lives of individual food products. Some products may only have a shelf life of a few hours (e.g. processed ingredients for fast food outlets), while others can be stored up to a few years (e.g. dried or canned goods).
Skills graduate engineers need to get a job in food manufacturing
The food manufacturing industry is generally quite welcoming of engineers from all backgrounds, but it tends to hire mostly from the chemical, electrical, electronics, manufacturing, and mechanical engineering disciplines.
Teamwork, interpersonal, and leadership skills are particularly important in this field as you’ll be working as a team to troubleshoot issues or implement new food processing solutions. Equally important is your problem-solving ability and having an analytical mindset.
Since food manufacturing can be quite a fast-paced industry, you may also find yourself working under a lot of pressure. Good time management and the ability to perform while under duress will be crucial to your performance.
In terms of your job role, you may end up in either the production or research divisions. Production roles tend to focus more on the manufacturing aspect of the supply chain, and you’ll be working a lot with production machinery and optimising processes.
Conversely, in the research division, you’ll be more focused on discovering better ways to produce specific food products – for instance, lengthening the shelf-life of an item, or researching new chemicals to reduce processed ingredients.
Best and worst aspects of a career in the food manufacturing industry
If you’re attached to a global company, you may get to work overseas and experience new working cultures.
Japanese food companies, for instance, typically require new staff to be seconded at their production headquarters in Japan for a period of time in order to immerse new hires in the company’s in-house production standards and culture.
Occasionally, though, difficult decisions must be made in this line of work due to the many health and safety regulations that influence this industry.
For instance, should you halt an entire production line if there have been consumer complaints about contaminants in an entire batch of products? How would you weigh the costs, benefits, and risks of such a decision?
These will be calls that you’ll need to make (and justify) from time to time.