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Green Jobs: what does a Plant Maintenance Engineer do?

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5 min read
AUTHOR: Fiona Holland
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As a Plant Maintenance Engineer, it is your responsibility to oversee the running of processing equipment and machinery in food and drink factories and sites. Your role is to make sure everything is running smoothly and that products can be made on time and in the right amounts – it’s an essential role in the food industry.

The ‘green’ side to the job might not seem obvious, but this depends on what sort of employer you decide to work for. For many companies specialising in food waste management for instance, a Plant Maintenance Engineer is essential to ensure their waste and recycling solutions can operate smoothly. Without the specific maintenance technician expertise that comes with such a role, organisations would not be able to run.

Many food and drink companies nowadays also require their engineers to have a basic understanding of sustainability in the work place. A Plant Maintenance Engineer therefore needs to be confident fixing faults and managing the running of machinery in the ‘greenest’ way possible.

What are the responsibilities?

  • Reacting quickly to faults in equipment which happen suddenly
  • Overseeing the running of machinery and fit new parts when needed
  • Planning ahead in case of machinery breakdown
  • Developing maintenance strategies and procedures
  • Keeping in regular contact with client relation departments, other engineers and production workers to notify them of progress or problems
  • Conducting regular safety checks on machinery
  • Finding ways to make equipment and machinery more efficient and considering sustainability and waste management where appropriate

Who might your employers be?

The type of company you decide to work will influence how ‘green’ your job can be. In the food industry it is primarily food and drinks manufacturers and plant managers who hire for this role. This could be for something as specific as a food waste processing company or a major food producer.  

What qualifications do you need?

Having a relevant engineering degree is typically essential to get into a maintenance engineering role. Some suitable courses include:

Some universities such as London South Bank University also offer more technical qualifications such as a Level 4 HNC course in General Engineering. Nottingham College also offers an HNC for Electrical and Electronic Engineering.

Engineering foundation courses are also offered by universities such as UCL, the University of Birmingham and University of Southampton, for students who don’t have the necessary qualifications to apply to other BEng courses.

You can enter this role without a degree, but you’ll need to build your experience by enrolling onto an engineering technician advanced apprenticeship in agricultural, mechanical, chemical or electrical engineering. Food and drink maintenance engineer apprenticeships are also available at some select colleges across the country, including Harrow College & Uxbridge College, City & Guilds, and Selby College.

What is the salary like?

The starting salary for this role can range between £20,000 and £25,000, if you begin in a trainee position. The average base salary for a Maintenance Engineer is £36,278 a year in the UK, according to Indeed.

Where will you be working?

You will most likely be working in a manufacturing factory or plant. You will likely be on your feet a lot of the time and will have to work alongside a lot of noise coming from the range of surrounding machinery. It is likely that your place of work will be outside of a city within a driveable distance. With experience, you can sometimes work freelance through contracted projects on a particular plant or site.

What is the career progression like?

Upon entering this role, you will build on your practical skills and engineering knowledge by being guided by more senior engineers. If you begin this role on a graduate or trainee level, it is likely you’ll follow a specific programme which will enable you to develop certain skills on the job such as people management.

After gaining some experience you may want to work towards achieving an incorporated or chartered engineer status – also known as IEng or CEng. It is worth applying to be a member of a professional body like the Institution of Mechanical Engineers or Institution of Engineering and Technology.

The Open University also offers its own foundation degree which can help you build on your current experience to allow you to get the most out of your position and progress further.

With more years working in the food sector and this role, you might be able to move up to more senior level engineering positions, such as a Senior Maintenance Engineer, also sometimes known as a Senior Maintenance Technician.

Is there demand for the role?

The demand for Plant Maintenance Engineers is always high because they are key to ensuring essential equipment is running correctly. Some reports in recent years have highlighted that there is likely to be a significant decline in the number maintenance technicians as a result of Brexit, which has caused the UK to lose many skilled workers. This job will is therefore bound to be highly valuable in the years to come, and in continual demand.

The engineering industry still needs more women to enter the sector as it still tends to be mainly male dominated. Organisations such as WISE and the Women’s Engineering Society could be useful to join to support you during your journey into this field.

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