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Nestlé reveals strategy to plug engineering skills gap

By Jane Byrne , 23-Feb-2011
Last updated on 04-Mar-2011 at 16:01 GMT2011-03-04T16:01:33Z

"It is necessary to inspire but also empower employees at grassroots level," Washington Munetsi, head of HR for Nestlé R&D and Operations.

A lack of engineering graduates has created a challenge for the food manufacturing sector in terms of vacancy filling or expansion projects and we spoke to the head of HR at Nestlé to hear about the food giant’s strategies to remedy the deficit.

Washington Munetsi, who is responsible for HR for Nestlé R&D and Operations, said that the skills gap in engineering is not just a priority for Nestlé, but is a factor that informs the strategies of all food processors globally.

He reveals though that the industry is no longer in the crisis mode of 2008 in terms of engineer recruitment, with Nestlé, in collaboration with other leading food and drink multinationals, having set about addressing the chasm by engaging directly with students at second and third level in a bid to promote engineering as a career.

Internships for second level students is one approach taken by Nestlé to ensuring processing engineering is an attractive career choice, said Munetsi. But close liaison with academia in terms of course structure is also bearing fruit, he explained.

“Over the past few years, intake on engineering courses has declined with students opting for more marketing and business orientated degrees.

The industry recognized that a way forward would be to engage with universities to have the curricula redesigned so that mechanical, electrical and processing engineering courses would also incorporate a business module,” said the head of HR.

Giving the degree course a commercial shot in the arm, continued the head of HR, will mean graduates can have greater latitude when it comes to crossover into other areas from operations in a food manufacturing company and could potentially become general managers.

“Such an approach informs our strategy in relation to talent retention generally. If a graduate can foresee a career path of 5 to 10 years in a company with diverse roles during that tenure, they are more likely to be attracted to the sector,” he stressed.

German project

Nestlé plays an active part in the engineering curriculum in Germany, explained Munetsi. “We do not try to influence the curriculum in Germany, but rather some of our managers give lectures at selected universities, and we cooperate with universities by offering internships and thesis-support.”

He said that the food giant has identified certain educational institutions as being important for its graduate recruitment. “With these key universities, we participate in campus activities and have established good relationships with certain professors (this is not only the case with engineering faculties, but also for all relevant faculties). We have a particularly close cooperation with the Technical University of Munich (TUM).”

Munetsi said that Werner Bauer, Nestlé’s chief technology officer, was recently appointed Honorary Senator at the TUM. Bauer established the TUM Universitätsstiftung (TUM Foundation) – a fund created in July 2010 to support the University’s main subject fields of engineering, natural sciences and economics.

Change catalysts

A need to boost transformational leadership skills is also an area of focus for HR at the food giant, reveals Munetsi. He said that the company, with 449 factories in 83 countries, has a vital need for people that can grow talent.

“In order to have a business model that continues to grow, it is necessary to inspire but also empower employees at grassroots level,” added Munetsi, who said that the Total Productive Maintenance (TPM) model in place throughout Nestlé's global operations aims to ensure that all factory operatives are trained in doing the more skilled tasks to help ensure process reliability.

“Through TPM, we aim to continuously improve all operational conditions and encourage employees to make key decisions. The success of the programme so far has been seen in a notable decline in our absentee rates,” argues Munetsi, but he remains focused on improving further the abilities of line managers to be change catalysts.

And he told this publication that plugging the gap in packaging engineering skills will need to inform industry wide drives over the next 5 to 10 years with packaging design courses brimful of registrants but the intake on the technical side of packaging development in decline.

Visit FoodNavigatorJobs for up-to-date information on careers and recruitment in the industry.

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