testing wheat for disease trials and measuring reflectance in wheat field

January 6, 2022, by Leah Sharpe

Food Matters: Careers in the Food Sector

By Seamus Higgins, Associate Professor in Food Process Engineering

When one thinks about food, not only has it fuelled our evolution as humans over millions of years it has also defined our societies over thousands of years. Think of hunter gatherers, the agricultural revolution and indeed more recently the industrial revolution.

Today the World Bank estimates globally the food industry generates $12 trillion+ or more than 10% of the world’s GDP.

The food and drink industry is also the UK’s largest manufacturing sector, bigger than automotive and aerospace industries combined. It contributes £31.1 billion to the UK economy annually and employs more than 400,000 people. Indeed the industry, as part of the UK’s entire food supply chain, employs over 4 million people and generates £121 billion of added value to the economy.

Food matters for every single individual on the planet and always has. Therefore opportunities for engineers working as part of the UK industry and the global food system are immense.

New emerging drivers for the industry such as net zero emission targets, health consciousness and wellness, social impact, environmental and sustainability issues coupled with a new required transparency, are already affecting and changing the future direction of food companies.

Klaus Schwab founder of the world economic forum, states in his book “As the Fourth Industrial Revolution starts to build on the so-called third digital revolution characterised by a fusion of technologies that is already blurring the lines between the physical, digital, and biological spheres the pace of change is evolving at an exponential rather than a linear rate.”

The global food industry is no different; one of the key challenges for every country in the world today is feeding its population. The end of the 20th century and the global realisation that nature’s resources are finite introduced two new dimensions — other than growth and profitability — to the food industry, namely; environmental and sustainability concerns. The Ellen MacArthur Foundation has priced these aspects as currently costing $2 for every $1 spent on food.

As such, with future population and urbanisation growth, as well as greater societal costs, there is no doubt that our current food system needs to change and this becomes both an exciting challenge and opportunity for new engineering graduates entering the industry.

The food industry is an incredibly diverse industry comprised of many different sectors. These could include but would not be limited to meat processing, dairy, processing fruits and vegetables, sauce and pickles, breakfast cereals, milling and baking, confectionery, processed and frozen foods, soft drinks and alcoholic beverages, etc.

Similarly with job roles; one could be involved with plant and equipment maintenance, automation, new product lines; design, installation and commissioning, new plant and or building development, new product development, high speed packaging and automated storage/warehousing, data systems and IT, control and automation systems, robotics, material handling, etc.

Several of the bigger food companies run their own graduate placement and training programmes whereby the incumbent gets to work in several different areas of operations, be it production or projects, and gets to choose a future career area of expertise.

From a future career perspective, there are several different fields of opportunity for career advancement.

Join us for our Spotlight On: Food Sector event on Thursday 3 February, to hear from food industry professionals and alumni on careers in the food sector. This event is aimed at engineering students of all year groups, however is open to students studying any STEM discipline.

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