Richard Phipps was 15 when he decided he wanted a career in the food industry. Two years later he was working in a factory which mass-produced chicken, salad and pizzas.
Fast forward another 20 years and Richard is talking to First Break from Switzerland, where he is taking part in a course run by Buhler Group, the multinational technology giant. The course, held at Buhler’s headquarters in Uzwil, offers access to state-of-the-art milling machines as well as the very latest in lab analysis and cereal science.
“It’s been a fantastic experience, but I’m looking forward to getting home – even though it’ll be full-on as usual,” he laughs.
Home is Wright’s Flour Mill in Enfield, where Richard is mill manager. Aged 37, he took the position in August last year after five years as factory manager at Wright’s food ingredients business. Previously his career had included stints with Grain D’Or, EAT and Uniq Prepared Foods.
“As factory manager I’d reached the stage where I was ready for the next push, and David Wright suggested I study for an MBA through the apprenticeship levy. This meant when the head miller left last year I was in a position to step up.
“But I’m in an industry where there is always more to learn and ways to improve. For someone who has always wanted to be a part of the food sector it has been a golden opportunity.”
Richard admits that milling suffers from something of an image problem, especially among the younger generation
“I was naïve about the industry when I first started. Like many people I thought it was very old and traditional – the Windy Miller cliché. But while the fundamentals of milling process itself have not changed, modern mills are now packed with state-of-the-art technology and there are all sorts of career opportunities available.
“The challenge the industry faces is getting the message out there to the next generation.”
Encouragingly, the industry is increasingly attracting graduates who might not have considered milling as a career.
Rebecca Borley, 24, initially came to Wright’s on a placement while studying at the University of Reading. Working initially as a lab operative she benefitted from final year sponsorship and is now a QA team leader, managing a three-strong squad.
“I always wanted to work in the food industry, but it wasn’t until I came to Wright’s that I saw the opportunities to progress my career,” she says.
“The company has been incredibly supportive, and I am learning all the time. I would recommend it to anyone, like me, who has an interest in the sector.”
According to managing director David Wright, both Rebecca and Richard are shining examples of the company’s policy of nurturing young talent.
“It’s vital that we actively encourage the next generation of millers, and Rebecca and Richard have shown what is possible in our industry with ambition, talent, and hard work,” he says.