Careers special: Progressing young talent key to driving innovation

06 Mar 2022

06 Mar 2022

A mixture of degrees, skills and perspectives is vital to drive innovation and change across the engineering sector and the wider agri-food chain. 

Each year Protolan, a company making products and solutions for food companies, takes on two Management Development Services (MDS) trainees, with and without engineering degrees, for four six-month secondments, to help achieve this.  

Richard Whittle, managing director of food manufacturing experts at Protolan, said: “Those with engineering degrees, whether food, chemical or mechanical, run with a project very quickly as they have the skills and innately know how it all works.

“We have also thrown graduates from other disciplines into our engineering teams and have learned from them.

“They will ask questions and challenge processes, often driven by different priorities.

“Engineering is about creating solutions, with an analytical approach, attention to detail and lateral thinking.”

But he highlighted engineers were often largely under-represented at chief executive and chief operations officer levels in the fresh produce sector. 

“Having engineering intelligence at management level offers huge benefits to businesses as they innovate and progress, while also giving engineers the opportunity to stretch their own skill set and impact,” Mr Whittle said. 

“That is why management training like MDS is a distinct advantage as it rapidly elevates graduates of all disciplines into senior roles in the business. 

“Exposure to different parts of the fresh produce industry during four six-month secondments and the challenges each brings is experience you cannot buy and would take years to experience otherwise.”


He urged anyone who did not have a degree in engineering to still seek opportunities, highlighting employers were increasingly looking at how they form their teams, their roles within them and the benefits diverse perspectives or drivers bring to progress. 

“Not all those in a marketing department will have a marketing degree,” he said. 

“If you do have an engineering degree, consider management training that will open doors beyond core engineering roles.

“A mix of degrees, skills and perspectives is healthy, with cross-fertilisation driving innovation and awareness of change across the sector.”

Ivan Erviti, a responsible and sustainable business trainee at agrichemical company Syngenta who completed his MDS with Protolan, said the scheme had opened his eyes to different areas of the food industry, such as roles in research, quality assurance, food safety and supply chain management. 

“I have already worked in manufacturing and technology, in a company of 30 and a company of 40,000. 

“The experience and training added value to me as a person, with a broader vision of the industry and it equipped me with the tools to make me a more attractive prospect for employers.”

“It also gave me the skills, support, consultancy and responsibility as a graduate with the leadership assets to become senior business managers.”