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Why the Future is Bright for Engineers and Project Managers in the Food Manufacturing Industry

The global food industry is in a state of rapid, unprecedented change and as a result, careers in food manufacturing are experiencing explosive growth. In as little as 30 years, 9.7 billion people will inhabit the planet. And, according to the United Nations, worldwide food production needs to increase by at least 70 percent to keep up with demand.

As we move forward into the century, food manufacturers are not only considering how population growth will affect the food supply but also how global warming and geopolitical disruption may impact it. To maintain our current levels of food diversity, quality, availability, and safety, the industry is focusing on developing new technologies. But, there’s a critical hiring gap and engineers, project managers and other essential technologists are urgently needed to maintain the forward momentum and keep pace with evolving conditions.

Why consider a career in food manufacturing?

COVID has been a test for everything, especially supply chains. But, while several areas of the economy have been struggling, food manufacturing has thrived. Simply put, we must eat to live no matter what’s happening around us, and that includes the coming population boom, and how we’re responding to global warming.

Even with all this upheaval, the food manufacturing industry continues to boom. And, since it’s going to grow no matter what, it’s fail-proof as a career choice. There’s a high level of job security and many opportunities for advancement.

There’s a lot of exciting technological developments, too. To keep up with demand, food manufacturing companies are using increasingly advanced systems. They’re always innovating, and strategically integrating complex technology across many processes. The rapid changes are guaranteed to provide incredible professional challenges for people entering, or advancing in, the industry.

An altruistic component

The social component to the work may surprise you as well. This is a rare industry because it literally keeps the human population alive. By growing, processing and distributing food, while maintaining a safe supply chain from farm to table, these companies, both large and small, ensure the quality of life for individuals all over the world. If you’re employed in food manufacturing, you’re on the forefront of the newest trends in food. It’s also very satisfying that everything that is produced is a tangible product.

There are other reasons to consider a career in food manufacturing. A single employee can make a significant contribution here. For example, an automation engineer could use their data and automation engineering skills to streamline and optimize their company’s processes — or a quality manager at a meat processing company could impact the safety of a product that’s distributed globally. Your individual actions have real benefits for public health and corporate trust.

The most in-demand roles

Despite the product demand, food manufacturers don’t have enough talent to produce, implement, and manage the fast-paced changes that are now the industry norm. There’s a severe shortage of qualified candidates within the food industry for automation engineers, controls engineers – with knowledge of programmable logic controls (PLC) – as well as process engineers, project managers / supervisors, quality control technicians, and maintenance instructors.

We do want to mention that larger companies are also in great need of skilled production managers / supervisors and quality managers. These roles require deeper experience, though, because knowing and understanding regulations and requirements are significant parts of the job.

Academic or professional experience that will make you stand out

The experience needed to secure a job in the food manufacturing space varies by role. That said, the need is so great that some companies will train engineers who meet other requirements. Soft skills are important as well. Being able to communicate clearly and work well with others is necessary for all the positions we’ve mentioned. However, there are academic degrees and skills that will get you noticed, especially in these roles:


It should be noted that all the engineering positions will likely require varying degrees of involvement in the design and development of auto control systems that are being employed in manufacturing hardware and software.

Automation engineers should have a Bachelor of Science degree in Electrical, Chemical, or Mechanical Engineering. Computer Science degrees are in demand as well. You’ll be ahead of the game if you already have experience working in data engineering, SCADA, historian and database management, and business intelligence. Knowing how to develop in SQL is also a big benefit.

Controls engineers should have a BS in Electrical Engineering or another relevant discipline. Project management experience is valued, as is understanding process control tools, and techniques such as Allen Bradley and Wonderware ArchestraA. Experience programming multiple PLC process control tools and techniques is really in demand. If you have robotics experience, all the better.

A process engineer should have a BS in Food Engineering, Food Science, or a related field. You could be involved in the any part of the food industry, such as process design of a food processing unit, operation and optimization of the process, new product development, mechanization of product production, or quality control, and audit and food safety. Partnering with the Research and Development, and Manufacturing teams is often part of the role as well. So, having experience analyzing data to improve product quality, optimize the system, and troubleshoot root problems, will be a plus.

Production Managers & Production Supervisors

As processing plants expand, production managers and production supervisors will have massive opportunities for advancement. You should have a BS or a Bachelor of Arts degree, but equivalent project management experience is also valued. Since production managers and production supervisors often set and enforce health / safety procedures and guidelines for operation, having experience in FDA / USDA monitored environments is a plus. Knowledge of end-to-end production software, and supply chain and logistics systems, is significant, too. Having a Project Management, Process Improvement certification can also be useful.

Quality Control and Maintenance

A BS in Biochemistry or Food Science is the desired degree for quality control technicians, but some positions only require a high-school diploma or GED. It’s also not unusual for companies to bring people in at the ground level and train them on the job. Having experience in manufacturing, as well as a laboratory background and knowledge of basic laboratory principals is a big plus.

Depending upon the demands of the job, maintenance instructors may need a BA or BS, but if you have extensive experience, a high-school diploma or GED is often acceptable.

Excellent communication skills also are essential to this role. Experience in a manufacturing environment, proficient computer skills and familiarity with instructor led training, on the job training, and virtual training will set you apart.

Food and how it’s produced is so integral to our everyday lives that we take it for granted. But the sheer volume of food products, and the incredible complexity of processing it all, presents exhilarating professional challenges. You can really go far in this industry.

Photo credit: Adobe Stock

by Kevin Gunkel, Senior Director, Planet Forward