Engineering Innovation | Richard Whittle

By Protolan

“Engineering roles should open up to all trainees” – Richard Whittle, Protolan director, and MDS board member recently shared his views in an article for The Grocer, the UK’s leading weekly magazine covering the whole FMCG sector. If you missed it, continue below to read the full article.

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 to drive it forward.


Whilst there may only be a small proportion of engineers coming into the Management Development Services graduate training programme [for fresh produce companies], there is 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 marketing departments to learn on and from the job.


Since we took our first MDS trainee in 2014, we’ve had a mix of engineering and non-engineering graduates – both of which have been assets to us.


While an engineering degree helps and graduates in this discipline have the skills and understanding to take on projects quickly, ultimately engineering is about creating solutions. It takes an analytical approach, attention to detail, and lateral thinking – skills many MDS trainees boast. 


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. His management training will be a distinct advantage that will 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.


As businesses in the sector, on the one hand, we have a role to challenge young people’s perceptions and champion the exciting opportunities in food and fresh produce. On the other, we need to include trainees from all disciplines in our engineering and technology teams, bringing fresh viewpoints to these roles.


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

*MDS is a partnership of companies that aims to equip young people with the experience, training, and mindset so that they have the confidence and ability to rapidly become senior business leaders within the food industry.  You can read more about MDS here.


Protolan is constantly looking for the next generation of talent to keep Protolan at its best. We want people with fresh ideas, Project Managers and Project Engineers, who ultimately want a career in the food and drink industry. Contact us if you would like to discuss a career in Food and Drink manufacturing.