Working Through Lockdown – The Perspective of our Recent Graduate.

By Protolan

Are you looking to begin a career in the food and drink industry? Or perhaps you’ve been working in the industry for years but are wondering – what is it like for somebody just beginning, particularly through lockdown? The following article is written by our recent graduate, Tyler Simmonite.  Tyler has joined Protolan as a Project Engineering Manager, taking on the challenge of providing innovative solutions to Food Manufacturing challenges alongside the experienced team at Protolan.

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Before I had any experience in food manufacturing, I wouldn’t really have been able to picture how all these products are made. Walking around a supermarket, I don’t think we appreciate the complex processes that these products go through to end up on the shelves. I remember watching TV shows like Inside The Factory with bottles or cans whizzing round on a conveyor, but I don’t think that is enough to give you a true picture of the industry as a whole.

Tyler Simmonite

Tyler Simmonite – Project Engineering Manager – Protolan

The food and beverage industry is incredibly diverse in terms of the products that it makes. From fresh produce and meat and dairy products to ready meals and desserts. This variety brings a wide range of challenges, as each product provides something unique. Then consider the fast-paced nature of the industry because of consumer demand, with new and evolving products all the time, and you’ve got an incredibly fascinating industry to work in.

Starting in the Food Industry

Interestingly, my first experience of a career in the food industry was through Protolan. It wasn’t in my current role though, but through an internship in my 2nd year of University.

I was inspired by the sheer amount of knowledge that the team showed while I sat in on meetings to hear about the latest projects. I was excited at the idea of learning about all these different processes and being able to look at food in a different way once you know all the secrets to how they make it.

Discovering that there are so many other aspects to food manufacturing than would appear at first thought was very interesting. The treatment and packaging involved in controlling the microbiological nature of food, as well as the layouts of a factory to make it safe for both food and the people who work there. The only thing I didn’t like – the amount of PPE you have to get on before you can get anywhere near the process! But you get used to that.

The internship stood me in great stead for returning to university and taking part in group projects. I developed new skills in leadership and management and had examples of how to best communicate and organise in order to get the best out of a group of people. I learned the importance of establishing clear objectives, and the actions to meet them when facing the challenge of a new project. Along with my new skills, I now had an appreciation for the real world of working in manufacturing and engineering.

Working Through Lockdown

So how does that experience compare to the current role that I’m in now? Well, back then all my work was carried out in the office. This time around I had to start my job working remotely, which created an all-new type of challenge. The first hurdle was getting introduced to the team, as there were many who I hadn’t met or worked with previously. On my first day, I had a video call on Microsoft Teams with our Office Manager, Dawn Wright, who did a great job at giving me, and another new starter, a friendly welcome to the company. as she guided us through the systems and training. As the call ended though, the reality of being sat at home to work was hard to ignore.

The thing that I missed the most, as I’m sure many people did through lockdown, was the office atmosphere. Sat around those who were doing the same work as me with the chance to stop for a chat and grab a coffee. I decided to organise a series of calls with small groups of people in the team to get introduced and learn about the projects they had been working on. This was one of the best things I could’ve done and quickly helped me settle into the team so that when was given my first assignments, I had already met the people that I would go on to ask for support and guidance. So, if you are starting or recently started a new job, take note! I found the response to be incredibly welcoming and often those on the other side were equally happy to have interaction while most of us are stuck at home.

Another essential part of my welcoming to the team was the weekly quiz that we have on a Friday. It’s a chance to socialise and become familiar with the people I’m working with.  It definitely gives something to look forward to at the end of the week.

Moving Forward

Recently, I have had the opportunity to be onsite with different projects.  I almost forgot when I met with my colleagues that I hadn’t actually seen them before! I had become so comfortable through the time I had spent with them on video calls that I didn’t even notice. Although it had seemed daunting at first, and there were times where it was difficult to adjust to the new normal, starting a new job working from home was manageable and I’m grateful to be part of an incredible team.

If you have any thoughts or experiences to share on your career in the food and drink industry or want to learn more about Protolan, get in touch with us through our website  or LinkedIn