My career in food and drink

Stephen Finnie, Project Engineer, Baxters

Stephen FinnieWho do you work for and what is your job?

I work for Baxters Food Group which produces some of the UK's finest soups, preserves, condiments, beetroot, chutneys and a wide range of other fine quality food products.

I am a Project Engineer, which basically means I manage projects where the end result is an easier, quicker, less expensive or safer way to manufacture product.

The great thing about my job is that it is different every day – one day I can be on the jam line doing a trial to see if our machinery will be able to make a new product, the next day I'll be doing factory layouts to make sure that a new piece of machinery would fit properly if we bought it and then the next day I'll be in a meeting with the Managing Director about confidential projects (that's when you start to feel like James Bond – because nobody else knows what's going on!).

Give an outline of how you got to this job i.e. school, college/university, first job etc.

I always wanted to study physics; it was my favourite subject at school and the one I was best at. I had applied to study it at university but decided in the end to study to become a Mechanical Engineer. I was applying for jobs after university, and honestly didn't realise that the food and drink industry even needed engineers – I applied to Baxters and got the job. And now I know there is a great need for good engineers in the food and drink industry.

What skills do you use in your job?

  1. People skills – about 80% of my job is about communicating with people. At the end of the day, everything I do is to make other people's jobs easier and better and make money for the company.
  2. Computer skills – Microsoft Office (Excel and Word mainly) and technical drawing software for the factory drawings and designs.
  3. Engineering skills – problem solving, being creative, giving advice to people about engineering solutions, timescales and costs.
  4. Cost management – posh for keeping track of how much money you have spent (budgeting).

What do you particularly like about your job?

I love speaking to people. I now know so many people because I've had to get to know them to work with them – my favourite people are the ones who have worked at Baxters for longer than I've been alive, because they tell stories about how they used to do something and whether or not it's better now.

I also love it when a plan goes to plan – when you can see a good result for the hard work that you do.

Tell us something unusual or interesting about your job/company

We are still family owned and run – which is rare for a large global company.

What is the salary range?

The range goes from about £20,000 – £50,000.

What car do you drive?

I feel like an old man when I get asked this question because I drive a 2008 Peugeot 207SW 1.6 VTi Sport (it's what I could afford at the time). My next car will be an Audi though!

What are the entry qualifications?

To enter the company as a Graduate Project Engineer – an engineering degree of some form is required, however there are plenty of other jobs in other areas of the business that don't require engineering degrees.

What did you study at school and how relevant were the subjects?

Highers in physics, maths, English, German and geography; physics and maths helped me get into and through university to get to where I am now. I've used my German a few times to figure out that an engineer from a machine manufacturer didn't know how to fix a problem we were having.

What did you want to be when you were 8?

I phoned my Mum and Dad to help me on this one because I couldn't think. Their answer was “you always used to take things apart and then put them back together again... we always knew you'd be an engineer”.

What do you particularly like about the food and drink industry?

It's so diverse and vast in the skills that are required that there is a job for everyone. People will always need food so the industry will always be here in one form or another. And the sector is full of helpful people who are more able to share information for the benefit of the whole industry.

What advice would you give to school pupils thinking about pursuing a career like yours - or any career in the food and drink industry?

It's ok if you're not certain what it is that you want to do. Just do what you enjoy, most of the time there will be a role in the food industry that fits with what you enjoy. Get focused and work hard so that you don't have any regrets in the future.

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Last reviewed: 21 Feb 2020