For several years the South Eastern Branch of IFST has sponsored the students’ placement presentations from the Department of Food and Nutritional Science at the University of Reading, and this year was no exception. On previous occasions, the presentations have been in the evening, but this year the event was held during normal teaching hours, as the School of Chemistry, Food and Pharmacy values align closely to the Athena SWAN principles.
About fifty students attended this year’s event, which was structured into three parts. The first part was a series of ten minute presentations by six students returning from their industrial placement – “a personal and professional experience”. The six presentations covered a wide range of topics, such as working in large multi- national companies to working in small companies. Some students had the opportunity to travel and liaise with factories in other parts of Europe, whilst those working in small companies were multitasking with every day management problems.
Their experiences covered many facets of the food industry; organising the analysis of different products; supervising art work to make sure that the stated claims for the products could be substantiated; working on sugar reduction in cereal products; producing low calorie breads; running factory trials and advising on new equipment; working with suppliers, customers, the public; and meeting deadlines.
All the students felt that they learnt a lot about themselves; their strengths and weaknesses; how to communicate and how their knowledge and confidence were increased in a way, which was not possible from the class room – welcome to life in the ”Real World of Industry”.
In the second part of the event, Jon Poole gave a presentation about IFST and explained that there is a wide range of career in the food industry, such as product development, engineering, legal regulations, transport, or analysis to mention a few. Jon then went on to explain how IFST, being a professional organisation could help graduates to start their professional career and progress through it.
For the last part of the event, three Reading Alumni talked about how their student placements had helped prepare them for work in the food industry. They all felt that it broadened their outlook; how they had gained experience which was useful when applying for a job and the ability to transfer skills and to be flexible. On the topic of jobs, they advised students to start looking for a placemen early in the academic year. Yes, they might get rejections, but they have to keep applying, and as Jon Poole pointed out, there are far more small firms in the food industry than large ones so that will be always a good option. So be persistent.
After the presentations and talking to the students, I was left with the impression that the future of the UK food industry was in good hands. Well done Reading. Regarding future events, they will be bigger and a part from the presentations a poster session will be organised, so that each student will have a chance to talk about their particular placement to interested students.