News

Meet the Trainees: Rising Star Award nominations are now open!

November 29, 2021

As the highly anticipated January Meet the Trainees event fast approaches, so do the MDS Awards! We are pleased to announce that nominations for the Rising Star category are now open.

What is the Rising Star Award?

The Rising Star Award is presented to a Trainee who strives for success and achieves results. Rising Stars are Trainees who haven’t just carried out their secondment role. They have over-achieved and exceeded expectations within their role. They have taken anything managers throw at them with tenacity and resilience and have been able to prove their value to Member companies time and time again. We are looking for nominees who are ambitious future leaders.

Trainees across all groups are eligible for nominations from their secondment managers.

Recognising Talent

This is your opportunity to reward talented Trainees who have made a real impact to your organisation. It’s the chance for secondment managers to highlight how Trainees are useful to their business and the wider industry. The award is also the chance for Members to promote the culture of their business as valuing talent. Support your Trainees by nominating them for an award that is recognised within the industry and will support them in securing future roles and help them in their leadership journey.

Past Winners
India Dodge-Forder, Group 49

India was nominated by Siân Hardy at Fancy Plants UK for putting in 100% effort from the very start of her first secondment. She demonstrated the ability to work under pressure and was able to handle significant changes to the company and supply network. According to Sian, India had a tenacious and professional attitude when dealing with established and new suppliers. India was invested in learning as much as she could in her Fancy Plants secondment and sought out development opportunities even if they were outside the responsibilities of her role.

James Rowe, Group 48

James was nominated by secondment manager James Bardgett at Fleurie Nurseries for demonstrating outstanding potential. On secondment, James operated at a standard that those with many years of experience and seniority would perform at and never waivered. Suppliers and the wider Tristram group noticed his positive attitude and leadership skills.

Isabel Cole, Group 46

It was Chris Guest and Alexander Berger from Aldi who nominated Isabel for the award. According to the managers, she showed exceptional ability when implementing a packhouse project. She engaged with the right stakeholders and kept the company updated on strategy. Issy displayed all of the core competencies required for future strong leaders and was incredibly hungry for personal growth. She was never scared to push for her own development.

If you are a secondment manager who would like to nominate a Trainee for going above and beyond in their secondment, complete the nomination form shared with you via email. If you have any queries get in touch with Gretta@mds-ltd.co.uk.

Award

Meet the Trainees: Save the Date

November 26, 2021

We are delighted to announce that the next Meet the Trainees event will take place face to face. Join MDS, our high calibre Trainees and Members from across the entire food and fresh produce industry on Monday 17th January 2022. Promote your organisation to the ambitious future leaders of food and fresh produce.

The Venue

This year, the event will be held at the recently refurbished East Midlands Conference Centre, Nottingham. This state-of-the-art venue is the perfect space for Meet the Trainees, set within the beautifully landscaped parkland of Nottingham University’s Park Campus. Purpose-built and situated adjacent to the Orchard Hotel with excellent transport links and parking facilities, the event has been designed with the ease and comfort of Member organisations and Trainees in mind.

The Event

This highly anticipated industry event will be our first in-person Meet the Trainees in over 2 years and will be the first chance that many of our groups and Members have had to meet one another face to face. As a result of the rising demand for secondments and the ever increasing number of Trainees, we are asking that all Members represent their business at this event. With a lack in networking events over the last 2 years, this is a perfect opportunity to get stuck in and launch your business into 2022 to develop your leadership pipeline.

The Day

The day will be divided into two main sessions.  The first session will start at 10.00am where Members will be invited to join us for a forum delivered by Saffy Waterson, COO. The forum will discuss how we can increase our offering to Members, how we are investing in additional flexi-apprenticeships, where we have identified potential skills gaps and how this could benefit your business.

The second session will start after lunch. This will start with our awards which showcase excellence amongst our Trainees and Membership. After the awards, Members will be invited to promote their organisation via a 1 minute talk on their business, followed by our networking session.

During the networking session each Member will be offered an area around the periphery of the hall where they can use promotional materials, stands and pull up visuals to showcase their business to the future leaders of the food and fresh produce industry. Trainees will be encouraged to visit all the Members showcasing their business, secondments and any permanent roles they might have.

The Perfect Opportunity

With continued press coverage about the challenges in recruiting the right people, Meet the Trainees offers you the chance to promote your organisation as future focused and directly reach out to a pool of talented young professionals who are passionate about pursuing a career in food and fresh produce.

This is also a fantastic opportunity to meet and collaborate with like-minded MDS Member organisations and representatives across the entire industry. If you are Member company who is interested in attending our Meet the Trainees event please complete our sign-up form HERE. 

Spaces are filling up fast!

Meet the Trainees

Christine McDowell on Industry Resilience

October 26, 2021

Christine McDowell completed MDS in 2014 and now works with the NFU as a Food Chain Advisor. Christine plays a significant role in engaging with organisations throughout the food industry to grow influential support for British farming and agriculture. She has learned a lot on her career journey, during her time on MDS and in her roles since. We spoke to the MDS Alumna on some of her biggest successes since completing MDS and asked what advice she has for aspiring fresh produce leaders.

What sparked your passion for food, fresh produce and agriculture?

My interest sparked during my GCSE’s. I developed a real interest in food and nutrition and managed to get a University sports scholarship to study Public Health.

When I visited a city campus, but something didn’t click with me.  I don’t know if it was the campus, the Uni, or the fact that it was a huge city, and I’m a dairy farming country girl at heart. It’s amazing looking back now how one day can completely change your life.  My Mum, in all her wisdom, took me to the Harper Adams open day, and before I knew it, I loved it! I chose to study Fresh Produce Management because I could see the bright and vibrant opportunities within the sector.

My MDS career started in a potato processing factory as a production planner.  I had sole responsibility for three production lines, ensuring the factory had enough raw material to fulfil customer orders and making sure orders were delivered on time and in full.  Looking back, it was a lot of responsibility, but I quickly learnt to forward plan. I became adaptable enough to change the plan and mastered effective communication. It was fast-paced, a steep learning curve, and at times highly stressful, but I loved every single day.  I still use the knowledge and skills I gained from that role in my current job now.

What does your role as Food Chain Advisor with the NFU entail?

I’ve been within the food chain team for six years, and our team of 5 are based at NFU HQ in Warwickshire. Our purpose is to be supply chain and customer-focused.  The NFU lobby Government on many agricultural policy areas on behalf of our members. My team’s focus is to build relationships with the food industry; retailers, branded manufacturers, public procurement bodies and the foodservice sector, to represent British agriculture across the supply chain.  Much of our role is about relationship management, influencing and seeking support on behalf of British farmers and growers; be that through supporting brand standards like Red Tractor, influencing strategic sourcing policies or encouraging the food industry to speak with one voice to Government. A lot of our work revolves around on-boarding those with the most influence in the food industry, to speak and support our asks of Government, or indeed take action themselves.

I am also a SALSA Director. The NFU, along with three other trade associations (FDF, BRC and UK Hospitality), set up SALSA over ten years ago, to help small and micro-sized businesses (SME) meet the high food safety standards required of the large grocery retailers. It’s often difficult for an SME to achieve BRC standards, so the SALSA standard offers an alternative. It’s still a high standard of food safety, but the fantastic thing about SALSA is that they help you along the way. If you’ve diversified your business and have little technical experience, SALSA and its mentors can help you build your credibility, knowledge, and ability to produce food for the supermarkets. My role as Director is to ensure the scheme’s strategy delivers for SMEs, both in terms of its strategic direction and making sure the scheme remains affordable.

What is your most significant career achievement?

I’m lucky enough to have been in a position that has allowed me to influence Government ministers to introduce new laws. I’m proud to say that I’ve been able to influence the Agriculture Act when it was a Bill going through the Houses of Parliament, and achieved a whole section within it, specifically giving the Secretary of State powers to address unfair trading practices. I’ve not achieved it single-handed and have had the support of many stakeholders, influential members, colleagues and through good relationships with civil servants.

What do you feel are some of the biggest challenges being faced by the industry at the moment?

There are many spinning plates at the moment that are significant challenges for the industry. Depending on where you sit or what business you work in, those challenges might be different.  For me and many others, the current challenge is resilience. At the moment, that is in the form of access to a competent, reliable workforce which is a high and urgent priority right now, be that on the farm, factory or packhouse. From drivers, to butchers, pickers or poultry catchers; there isn’t a sector or business not impacted by it. The NFU are calling for the Government to introduce a Covid Recovery Visa Scheme to deal with the short-term labour demand, but in the long term, we need a permanent seasonal agricultural worker’s scheme in place that can deliver at scale.

Government must also take a real hard look at what the future Immigration Policy looks like because what we have today is simply not working for us.

We’ll never have a sector that isn’t challenged in one shape or another, but if MDS has taught me anything, it is that resilience is key.  We must ensure our industry is resilient and can adapt quickly to the ever-changing environment we operate in – Government plays a huge role in unlocking our resilience.

What is the most interesting thing you are working on at the minute?

Fairness in the supply chain has to be one of the most interesting policy areas I’m working on currently.  Now that we have left the EU and are in the process of reforming our domestic agricultural policy, a move away from direct support (Basic Payment Scheme) and the negotiation of new trade agreements threatens the financial resilience of many farming businesses. Any agricultural reform must be twinned with reform in the marketplace that levels up the balance of power within agri-food supply chains, and must deliver a fair and functioning supply chain.  If farmers and growers are to deliver on our shared endeavour to produce climate-friendly food and achieve meaningful environmental and animal welfare gains, we must be rewarded in a fair marketplace.

I want to see a significant levelling up and rebalance of power within the supply chain, with a similar level of protection that GSCOP and the GCA provides direct supermarket suppliers.  So, I’m lobbying the Government to introduce a comprehensive plan, using the Secretary of State’s powers in the Agriculture Act to address unfair trading practices, improve transparency in the supply chain, and improve contract terms that work for producers and first purchases equitably.

My goal is that we see a changed embedded culture within the agri-food sector.

What advice would you give to MDS Trainees and those interested in starting a career in the industry?

The industry is full of opportunity.  You only need to look back to 2020 to see how vital our sector is to the lives of everyday people.

MDS worked for me because I didn’t know what role I wanted or what I’d be good at in the industry. I’m still tackling those questions 12 years later, but what MDS and the businesses I was seconded to gave me is an ability to be brave enough to try anything once. Given the scope of roles out there that need filling right now, this gives you a fantastic skillset to be on the front foot as you’re bringing with you well-rounded job and industry experience to any new role.

Your network is your best friend.  MDS gives you brilliant access to people across the industry that other non-MDS colleagues might take years to build.  Keep in touch with previous colleagues, fellow Trainees and other MDS Members. You’ll be surprised how extraordinary useful they can be in helping you open doors.

NFU

Celebrating Birmingham Pride with Agrespect

October 14, 2021

MDS staff and Trainees were given the fantastic opportunity to walk in the Birmingham Pride Parade last month, all thanks to Agrespect.

Agrespect

Agrespect aims to promote and support diversity in rural and agricultural communities. The organisation gives a platform to LGBTQI+ people to be open and live authentic lives in their community. Working in partnership with organisations throughout the industry, the platform spotlights spaces that are welcoming and safe. At MDS, we are proud to support Agrespect and help to ensure a diverse and accepting leadership pipeline within agriculture.

Birmingham Pride

Agrespect kindly invited MDS representatives to attend the Birmingham Pride Parade. MDS team member Tom Divers, and Trainees Libby Richards and Alex Muxworthy were all able to attend the event to celebrate and support diversity in the countryside. The MDS reps were able to walk alongside Agrespect’s impressive rainbow MF 8S’ Sassy Ferguson’ tractor through Birmingham’s city centre.

Group 48 Trainee Libby Richards loved the event:

“It was an absolute honour walking with Agrespect! I met some amazing people who are all at the forefront of advocating LGBTQI + representation in agriculture. Agrespect is so important because it enables, includes and supports the rural LGBTQI + community.”

“MDS covered all of our travel expenses, and Tom Divers introduced us to the Agrespect community, showed us a great coffee spot, and walked with us all the way.”

Group 49 Trainee Alex was also able to attend:

“For my first large scale pride event, I couldn’t have asked for a better experience! There was such a large turnout. It was both overwhelming and so empowering to see so many people celebrating pride. The atmosphere was so exciting, friendly and inclusive. Being in the parade with a charity that continues to work towards an inclusive and diverse world was a great opportunity.”

Thank you

We want to thank Agrespect for inviting MDS and for their ongoing work in ensuring rural communities and industries are safe and accessible for everyone.

Agrespect

New Launch: Graduate Careers Workshops

September 21, 2021
The MDS Graduate Scheme

Kick-start your graduate management career in a fast-paced, thriving, and vital industry. If successful, you will experience four secondment roles across at least three food and fresh produce businesses where you will discover the best fit career path for you.

The MDS graduate scheme is unlike any other. We nurture ambitious graduates who have the potential to be future senior leaders in an industry that feeds the world. Your management career in an innovative, growing, and sustainable industry begins with the MDS graduate scheme and our unique partnership with over 60 organisations, including Sainsbury’s, Aldi, PepsiCo, Birds Eye, Iceland and many more.

Not your typical careers event

We are pleased to launch a new exciting MDS event for high-calibre graduates looking to kick-start their food and fresh produce career!

We’re giving exceptional, can-do graduates the unique opportunity to boost their CV, improve their management skills, and stand out against other graduates. Attendees will get access to not one, but two free management training workshops delivered by qualified leadership training experts. Not only will you develop your leadership knowledge, but participants will also receive a certificate to share with potential employers upon completion of the day.

If you stand out to our Talent Acquisition Team as an exceptional candidate, you will also have the opportunity to be fast-tracked through our recruitment process.

What to expect?
11:00 AM – 12:00 PM: MDS Info and Networking Session

MDS is a graduate scheme with a difference. It takes high-calibre leaders to turn fresh produce into the products that you see on your supermarket shelves. Ask us anything about our unique graduate scheme! Find out more about MDS and hear from our Trainees on what makes the programme so great.

1:00 PM – 2:00 PM: Leadership Style

This 60-minute session is for high-calibre graduates who aspire to be future managers and leaders. The workshop is an opportunity to develop your understanding of leadership styles so you can build effective teams. Topics will include:

  • What does an inspirational leader or manager look like?
  • Understanding the impact of different leadership/ management styles on others
  • Ways to motivate your team
2:30 PM – 3:30 PM: Powerful communication

In our final 60-minute session, you will develop your communication skills for all situations. This workshop is for outstanding graduates and future leaders who are keen to unlock the power of effective communication and improve their personal and professional relationships. Topics will include:

  • What makes a great communicator?
  • Exploring the four communication styles
  • How to use body language, tone and words to build effective professional relationships
  • The power of active listening and effective questioning
I’m in! How do I sign up?

It’s simple, visit our Eventbrite page and sign-up HERE

  • You will receive all Zoom links and workshop materials ahead of the event
  • The workshops include interactive elements which require active participation to develop your knowledge
  • The workshops will be run by Management training experts and facilitated by
  • MDS staff who will observe participation
  • Enthusiastic candidates who stand out may have the opportunity to be fast-tracked through our recruitment process
  • Candidates must contact event organisers if they are no longer able to attend the event (please email izzy@mds-ltd.co.uk)
  • You will only receive the digital certificate upon completion of all three 60-minute sessions
  • This certificate is backed by a specialist provider of bespoke training in Leadership and Management

Spaces are limited, so sign up now!

Workshops

MDS Diversifies with new Member, Noble Foods

August 4, 2021

We take great pleasure in announcing a new MDS Member, fresh food, animal feed and poultry supplier, Noble Foods. In collaboration with Noble Foods, we hope to diversify the MDS programme and offer a broader scope of opportunities. This diversification marks a development for MDS and the wider industry. We will continue to support food and fresh produce by developing a leadership pipeline inclusive of all aspects of the sector.

Why MDS?

Group HR Director Louisa Hogarty attended her first Meet the Trainees event on behalf of Noble Foods in June. The business plans to take on its first MDS Trainee for the winter secondment season. Louisa explained why the organisation decided to join MDS:

“We are passionate to grow future talent for the food industry. Since Brexit and COVID it is ever more important for us to unite as an industry to demonstrate the wealth of career opportunities we can provide and to welcome and support people into food careers.

Utilising Trainees

When asked how fresh produce Trainees will be used to support an eggs, animal feed and poultry business, Louisa explained:

“We have many facets to our business from agriculture and feed milling to food manufacturing.  One of the main things that excites me about the MDS programme is fresh thinking, working together with candidates that can bring new ideas and opinions to us, that challenge us to be better.”

“Initially, we envisage using Trainees to support with specific projects.  Longer-term we hope to build lasting relationships with the MDS network, identifying potential Trainee roles in different career pathways with us and providing alumni with the opportunity to join us permanently when a suitable vacancy arises.  I also hope that together with MDS, we can support our colleagues to build a meaningful industry network and encourage wider support across the food industry.”

MDS Diversification

MDS COO Sapphira Waterson commented on the announcement:

“We are looking forward to working with Noble Foods to provide enriching opportunities for our Trainees. This collaboration marks a step forward for MDS as we diversify the business to support the industry and its needs further.”

We are excited to see where this collaboration can take the MDS programme and are looking forward to working with Noble Foods to empower proactive future leaders to support all areas of the food industry.

Noble Foods

Maximising Mentoring

July 30, 2021

Nathan Whitehouse is the Marketing Manager at Certis, which develops crop protection solutions for UK and Ireland’s professional growers, with a focus on Integrated Crop Management. Certis joined MDS in 2016 and offers secondments within their marketing department. We spoke with Nathan about why he finds effective mentorship to be so important and how it can benefit both employees and businesses.

How does Certis encourage mentoring and development with new starters within your business?

 I can clearly remember preparing for our first MDS Trainee at Certis. We had read all the documents from MDS and discussed how we would work with our Trainees. As with any new starter at Certis, we provided them with a buddy to help with day-to-day questions and finding where things are.

What was different was providing formal mentoring. We encouraged Trainees to come and discuss things that were on their minds or they needed help with at any time. You also have to be proactive, get to know your trainee as this helps to spot when they may be uncertain about something or what they have just been asked to do will be taking them out of their comfort zone. Then you can help mentor them through it. Be prepared to share your experiences, these will help the trainee to learn and know we have all faced similar challenges, it’s a part of life.

Why do you think it is important to provide additional development, mentoring coaching sessions?

They are trainees and this is often their real first experience of the workplace. MDS provides a great opportunity to embed within a diverse range of companies to gain an equally diverse range of experiences and knowledge which would otherwise take years to accumulate.

Member companies are an extension of the formal learning Trainees receive and help them apply the principles, and to experience how the real world can differ from the theory. We have to stretch them to support their post-graduate development and in return we receive a person capable of a role we require help with.  My experience is the more you engage with trainees early, challenging them and providing mentoring support the quicker they develop and contribute to your business. The difference in confidence and capability between the trainee who starts with you and the one who leaves after six months will be a testament to this.

What benefits does this bring to the business and the individual?

We have given day-to-day management of Trainees to staff members to help them understand and develop their skill set for managing and motivating people. This helps prepare them for the next step in their careers and opens them up to what is needed when you have direct reports, such as setting expectations, clear communication and workload management.

The benefits for the Trainee is that when they join Certis we expose them to all parts of the business and all the staff. Our view is that MDS is a management development programme and these trainees will become managers in the future, and they will be helped by having wider business exposure beyond just their role.

Have you attended the Secondment Management Training?

I attended the event in March and found it helpful. The breakout groups were a high point of the day for me. We had a mix of new and experienced secondment managers and this allowed for a lot of sharing and discussion. It also made me realise how much I had learnt and developed as a manager working with and mentoring trainees.

What benefits do you think the training had or could have to secondment managers?

I think it is really helpful, especially for new secondment managers or those who may not have managed people before. Trainees are bright, enthusiastic and hungry to develop, but they have not got a great deal of broad workplace experience. The training can help you level your expectations on what you can expect from a Trainee and how to support them improve. I would say do not underestimate what a Trainee is capable of and can achieve when supported. My personal experience is they are extremely quick to learn, integrate well and will do an excellent job.

Have you ever benefited from directed mentorship?

Looking back, I realised I have benefited from mentorship, although at the time they were not formal mentoring relationships. I have been fortunate enough to work with people who gave their time to share experiences, challenge and encourage me forward in my roles and career. This has been invaluable as part of my development and in turn what I can give back through mentoring others.

How do you feel you have benefited by mentoring individuals?

It has made me think you don’t always realise how much you have experienced and learned over time, and how valuable and helpful this can be for others. For me, this is the biggest benefit, to be able to give back and see Trainees grow in themselves as well as their roles.

If you have the motivation and time to mentor a Trainee I would recommend you seriously consider it, you’ll be amazed at how much both of you will enjoy it and grow.

Meet the Trainees Awards

July 13, 2021
Meet the Trainees

Meet the Trainees (MTT) is a valuable networking opportunity for MDS Trainees. It is also a unique benefit that is exclusive to all MDS Members. The event offers Member organisations the opportunity to present their business to future leaders in food and fresh produce. It is a chance for Trainees and Members across the industry to come together and discuss secondments and career aspirations.

The event also celebrates the success of our Trainees and the support of our Members. In the most recent MTT awards ceremony, we were proud to present the Doug Henderson Award for professional development to Orla Matthews. Weronika Pawlowska also received the David Bagshaw Apprenticeship Award for her success on the Level 5 Leadership and Management training programme.

Doug Henderson Award

TraineesOrla received the Doug Henderson Award for her can-do professional attitude. The group 46 Trainee has received excellent reviews in every secondment and has left a lasting impact in the Member organisations she has worked with. In a previous secondment, she spearheaded a recycling project that saved the Member over £150 per tonne in waste removal costs. She championed the project across four different sites, sourcing external businesses, arranging transport and training staff in the changes.

On top of this, she constantly seeks out new development opportunities for herself and other Trainees. As a founding member of TAG, she facilitates Trainee networking and peer support. Orla is a perfect example of the MDS type and is a role model for other Trainees.

David Bagshaw Award

TraineesWeronika Pawłowska received the David Bagshaw Award for fully embracing all aspects of her apprenticeship training. She consistently achieves a high level of work, demonstrating a clear understanding of all topics. The MDS apprenticeship programme is designed to develop knowledge and push Trainees to put theory into practice which Weronika has evidenced in her secondments. She always stretches herself beyond the curriculum and is proactive in seeking further development, embracing all opportunities.

Peter Shepherd Award

We also present the Peter Shepherd Award to a Member or secondment manager who has exceeded expectations. This time, secondment manager Justin Fletcher, Agriculture Supply Chain Manager at British Sugar, received the award. Justin has continuously supported Trainees and pushed them out of their comfort zone to learn.  He is wholly supportive of the entire secondment process and is always willing to support the MDS Team when it comes to start dates and handovers.  Justin is a positive influence on all Trainees that he comes into contact with and receives amazing feedback without exception.  Recently, whilst looking to take on a Trainee, Justin, recognising that it was difficult for a Trainee to travel, undertook a 3 ½ hour car journey so he could meet and discuss a potential role with them. He is an excellent advocate for MDS and we would like to say thank you for his support. 

We want to congratulate all of our award winners and thank all of the event attendees. MDS are passionate about development and love to celebrate Member and Trainee success. We look forward to seeing how our Trainees can develop in the next 6 months and will continue to work closely with our Members to support the growth of their leadership pipeline.

New Logo

June 25, 2021

MDS has experienced huge growth over the last two years. As the organisation enters a new chapter, we are pleased to reveal our new logo. The new logo is very different to our previous branding, however the message, values and mission that we have been delivering for the past 35 years are remaining strong. We are here to develop future leaders for the food and fresh produce industry.

The new logo focuses on the four different aspects of MDS, each represented by a different colour.

So what do the colours mean?

Logo

 

 

 

 

Serving the industry

We are here to serve the food and fresh produce industry. We support deliver for the industry as a whole not just through our tailored training programme but through our knowledge and promotion of the industry.

Logo

 

 

 

Serving our Members

We are here to serve our Members. MDS provide a first-class graduate programme and work in collaboration with our Members to benefit them in every way we can. We ensure they can recruit the right people and have access to the highest-calibre graduates. We also assist our Members through training and developing their own staff.

Trainees

 

 

 

 

Serving our Trainees

One of the most important factors of MDS are our Trainees, we are here to develop and train potential. We are growing the future leaders of the food and fresh produce industry through tailored training, coaching and varied secondment experience.

colleagues

 

 

 

Serving our Colleagues

Finally, we are here to serve our colleagues. We ensure a MDS staff experience the best culture possible through offering a huge amount of training and development opportunities. Our colleagues are what make MDS possible.

We are really looking forward to using our new logo to highlight the different aspects of MDS. We hope you like it too!

Logo

Engineering Matters

June 18, 2021

Putting Trainees in engineering roles is not always a natural choice for Member Businesses, but if you can put a non-marketeer in a marketing role, why not do the same for engineering? asks Richard Whittle, Director of food manufacturing experts, Protolan, and MDS board member.

Engineering in Fresh Produce

Innovation, technology and sustainability are at the heart of our 21st century fresh food businesses and we need to capitalise on the motivated, digital savvy and eco-aware generation coming into the workplace set to drive it forward.

Whilst there may only be a small proportion of engineers coming into the MDS graduate training programme, there’s still plenty of opportunity to integrate MDS Trainees into engineering roles, and there is much to be gained from bringing in a fresh perspective. After all, we put non-marketers into our marketing departments to learn on and from the job.

Protolan

By our very nature, at Protolan, engineering is core to our business, and since we took our first Trainee in 2014, having been introduced to MDS by a client, we’ve had a mix of engineering and non-engineering graduates, both of which have been assets to us and our clients. While an engineering degree helps, whether it’s chemical, mechanical or food engineering, and graduates in this discipline have the skills and greater understanding to take on projects quickly, ultimately engineering is about creating solutions. It takes an analytical approach, attention to detail and lateral thinking, skills which many MDS Trainees boast. Combined with their generation’s natural affinity with technology and environmental awareness, they have strong credentials for one of the most fundamentally important areas of modern production.

Engineering spans the supply chain. Those working in sustainability and packaging are influencing engineering as much as those in NPD, manufacturing and operations. Our first Trainee Marina Llorente brought with her a particular interest in the environment and sustainability and, introducing her outlook to an area of increasing commercial significance, she helped educate us as a business.

MDS Trainees

One of our most recent Trainees, Ivan Erviti, has a food engineering degree completed in his native Argentina, and by the time he’s fulfilled four secondments in different disciplines, he will have a much greater understanding of how engineering fits into the wider industry and bring that insight into his future roles. His management training will be a distinct advantage that will undoubtedly elevate him into senior roles in the business. In my experience, engineers are largely under-represented at CEO and COO level in the fresh produce industry, and having engineering intelligence at management level also benefits businesses as they innovate and progress.

At Protolan, our projects are constantly changing, and we don’t have a specific secondment role – it could be involvement at implementation stage or it could be a feasibility study into operational improvement, but what we love about MDS Trainees is that they are motivated, keen to get stuck in, and are not precious. They are embraced into our business because they embrace it. It’s what MDS is all about and it’s a huge credit to the team that they can identify the calibre and potential that match each of the Member businesses.

MDS

As businesses in the sector, and proud MDS Members, on the one hand we have a role to challenge young people’s perceptions and champion the exciting, rapidly developing opportunities in food and fresh produce and entice more bright engineering minds in to drive our industry forward. We need to encourage them, particularly to do this via MDS, so that as an industry we can develop managers who will bring engineering acumen to the top table. On the other hand, we need to include MDS Trainees from all disciplines in our engineering and technology teams, bringing fresh viewpoints to these, but also to future roles, to help progress innovation, efficiency and sustainable solutions across the sector.

We should not be working in ‘discipline’ silos. If the mindset is that engineering can only be done by engineers, it doesn’t drive innovation and awareness of change across the industry. The whole food industry ultimately gains from that.

Protolan takes two MDS Trainees for each six-month secondment. The roles are varied and change with each placement.