Engineering Matters

Engineering Matters

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.


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.


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.