Skilled Trades in Ontario’s Food and Beverage Procession Industry | CareersNow! Mentorship Series

Over the past year CareersNow! has been partnered with FoodGrads to organize virtual career mentorship sessions. Students and new graduates have been able to meet with leading professionals to get great career advice and learn about exciting career pathways in the Food and Beverage industry. Together we have focused on career paths in: 

In our first mentorship session covering the Skilled Trades we talked with invited speakers about being skilled trades professionals and why you should become one in the food and beverage industry with career opportunities like mechanical engineers, maintenance managers, millwrights and production managers.

To make things easier for you here is a summary of all the speakers and what they talked about!

Alvin Alexander
Title: Maintenance Mechanic at FGF Brands

How Alvin got into the skilled trades

  • Alvin comes from Chandigarh, India.
  • He finished his degree in 2010, which looks like a very long time ago. Like me like many other mechanical engineers in India, the only industry that we were exposed to in their college was the automobile manufacturing industry. There was little exposure to the pharmaceutical industry but never food.
  • Alvin I landed the internship in my first job at MicroTurners, which is in the us, which is one of the largest OEM parts manufactured for Honda, Yamaha, Suzuki. He was there for almost six months and then he finished his internship and was was hired times as a production engineer by the same company. And his main work was to collaborate with the production teams quality, assurance teams, R&D department and maintenance department . He was at
  • In August of 2013 he joined Kone Elevators as a technical support engineer. It is one of the largest brands when it comes to elevators and escalators auto walks in globally. His job at Kone Elevators involved working with teams of technicians and fixing complex technical problems.
  • At this point Alvin wanted to move to Canada so in June of 2016, he packed up his bags and moved to Canada. Initially he struggled a lot to find a good job and even took bridging courses that excess employment.
  • He even went to college to make his resume more attractive to Canadian employers. He landed a job at Ingram Micro as an order picker and through and internal posting he got the opportunity to work as a product tester for Amazon returns. He was hired there on a contract basis. So after my contract finished, he started looking for other opportunities and Alvin came across FGF from a friend who told him to get into the food manufacturing business.
  • He wasn’t 100% sure if he would get that opportunity but in June of 2017 he joined FGF Brands and have been there ever since.
  • FGF is an industrial bakery based here in Markham, Ontario with manufacturing plants all over Canada, as well as United States. They are one of the largest baked goods in North America. They like to say they are a tech company that likes to bake.

What is a skilled trade and what is it not?

  • It is a career that is hands-on but required specialty knowledge. The knowledge could be about equipment, the manufacturing equipment or the structure of the building.

What are the benefits of working in a skilled trade environment?

  • In the skilled trades the jobs are in demand all the time. In any industry the first thing that they need to do is install equipment. This falls under the skilled trades.
  • There are a lot of opportunities for growth and career progression. For example in Alvin’s case he started as an entry level mechanic at FGF.

What is an entry-level mechanic?

  • More like an apprenticeship. Alvin had a bit of experience from India but he had never worked in a food manufacturing plant. During his apprenticeship he was shadowing more skilled individuals and learning from their experiences. His day to day work was fixing the machines. After a year he was promoted to level one mechanic which gave him a chance to work on his own and more exposure to the machinery.
  • Alvin is now a level 2 mechanic and the progress has been study. The progress is always steady.

How do you get into the skilled trades?

-There are three ways to get into the skilled trades:

  1. Go to school like a college and get a diploma or a degree in the skilled trades.
  2. Find an employer that gets you into the apprentice program from the Skilled Trades colleges.
  3. If you have experience like worked a certain amount of time you can challenge the college. They will recognize the hours and give you the certification.

Alvin personally used the third route and has worked FGF for almost four years now and almost has 8000 hours. So the journey has led him to have the experience and having the number of hours that are required for the equivalent. So after completing 8,000 hours, what you can do is you can submit an application to the Skilled Trade college and they will ask for the employer’s approval. They will apply. They will ask what kind of job you do, the job duties that you do. And they will double-check with your employer. That is the same person working with you. Does he have the knowledge that he’s claiming he has? And then they will give you the equivalent, the equivalent degree. In Alvin’s case, it will be a millwright license. So this is the course Alvin is taking and hopefully will be fully licensed soon.

The other thing you can do is if you’re working with an employer that knows that you don’t have a license, you can always keep them in the loop and they can apply for a license for you as well.

How is this industry so fruitful?

  • Many of us, we don’t actually consider like C coming straight up out of college. Alvin never thought about food manufacturing as a good starting point. But Alvin noticed that the food manufacturing industry even under the burden of the pandemic was the only industry that was left standing. Alvin saw almost 80 or 80 to 90% people at one time were staying at home. But during the pandemic Alvin was going to work every day because people had to eat, they were staying home, they had to eat. So this pandemic has taught us that being part of the food manufacturing sector, food manufacturing industry, it does a very fruitful thing, even like for new graduates.
  • FGF brands has internships and a co-op program that that you can take when your in school. come into effect even when you’re studying. So come join FGF.

Title: Maintenance Manager at Gay Lea Foods

  • Alex manages a team of 12 people which includes power engineers (TSA certified), mechanics/technicians and a chief engineer.

What is Gay Lea Foods?
Gay Lea foods have multiple manufacturing plants across Canada and they make dairy products.

How did Alvin become a Maintenance Manager?

  • Alex came from Latvia and started work during challenging times to find an engineering job. When his family and him moved to Canada he also started working as a mechanic. The first job I had was at the place called Gracious living. When you go into Canadian tire and you buy plastic furniture, plastic lounge chairs and tables. This is where it’s all made. Even when you drive on the streets, you can think about the yellow traffic lights. They make them too.
  • Alvin’s job was servicing these injection molding machines and it is quite a dirty job So my job was servicing these machines. This is because it’s s using a hydraulic oil because you need to create massive pressure to close these molds and inject plastic in them. So the oil was basically everywhere machines. The machines were big and required a lot of oil to happen. ,
  • His second job was since I got the Millwright ticket, I worked at the factory that makes laundry detergent and bar soap. It’s also, not a very clean and that kind of environment that food manufacturing will offer you. It’s a chemical manufacturing, they manufactured chemicals on sight and then processed and packaged as a laundry detergent or a dish soap, or a bar soap.
  • After working there a couple of years he got the job at Unilever factory. The brand name is Lipton and Knor and it was a change from where he worked before is it’s a food environment. It’s a facility that must comply with a GMP good manufacturing practices.
  • Alex was a mechanic and did his Millwright ticket but then got involved in continuous improvement program when he worked at Unilever. This helped him to transition into my supervisor position when he worked at Unilever and he basically started to manage the same people.
  • Unfortunately a place where he used to work the company decided to relocate to United States. He had to look for another job but this is how he got his job as a maintenance manager at Gay Lea.

How do you upgrade your mechanics career?

  • Become a maintenance management
  • Get into controls and start learning, PLC and controlled circuits you can add this portfolio and you can be one of the top technicians for this particular facility, because you will not just be able to do mechanical work when you can troubleshoot controls and fix controls. And you will be like a one man that can fix the entire packaging or processing.

Title: Maintenance Manager at Gay Lea Foods

Job Description

  • Alex manages a team of 12 people which includes power engineers (TSA certified), mechanics/technicians and a chief engineer.
  • He works at the facility that produces Whipped Cream, Butter and Milk Powder

How did you get into the skilled trades?

  • Lonny knew your he wanted to work with his hand. Right out of high school he got into a general metal machinist program. Bein a machinist you do the same thing day in and day out. He grew very tired of it and decided to take on a production role at Bendel automotive. After doing that for 3 months the maintenance supervisor came to him and asked me to join them. From there he joined maintenance as a maintenance helper, just doing PMs, filter changes, greasing machines, loops. Shortly thereafter, he worked his way into an apprenticeship. Then the automotive industry started to slow down.
  • A friend of his knew a company called Axiom millwrighting and fabrication where he started taking part-time work with them that led into full-time work. He continued his apprenticeship from there but ultimately left Bendel and started working for Axiom and we did everything from installing lines, removing lines, making machines. Lonny traveled all over North America doing different jobs for companies like Pepsi and Royal command and all kinds of different manufacturing, truants, electroplating.
  • One of his jobs when I was working for Axiom Millwrighting was actually to install a line at Gay Lea Foods. They installed the new whip line but at that time Gay Lea only had three mechanics on site and they were needing a night shift mechanic. Since he installed the line Lonny got hired under contract and then actually ended up liking it there so much he put in my resume and that was 14 years ago.
  • Today Lonny is maintenance manager and chief operating engineer.

Interested to know more about being a maintenance manager? Check out our interview with Robert Cunliffe, Maintenance Manager/Millwright at Flamaglo Foods Limited

What do you love about your job?

  • It’s different every single day. You never know what you’re going to get. You get the challenge your mind, you get to really work your brain and figure things out.
  • One of the most satisfying parts of the job is when you come to a piece of equipment and people are struggling with it and you leave and it’s running in perfect condition. So you get a lot of job satisfaction out of it.

What are some of your job duties currently?

  • Revamping the entire maintenance department. Lonny has been working on that for the last four years.
  • As a manager now Lonny oversees capital projects and he gets to improve the facility. Currently Lonny is leading the replacement of one boiler and rebuilding two others.
  • Building budgets and tracking cost centers.
  • He also manages a team but there are many options for individuals who are looking to become a mechanic and want to move around

When you became a manager did you have to learn those skills or was it natural?

  • Gay Lea has a “Lighthouse program” because they want to develop people within. So they actually put Lonny into that program to help him develop those skills.
  • Gay Lea generally do promote well into production manager roles so the transition works well. Lonnie believes that maintenance managers have one of the most difficult roles within a facility. So if you get to a point where you have succeeded within that role, transitioning into a different role within an organization seems to be an easier fit because when maintenance. “You have to keep everybody happy. You’ve got production demands, quality demands. You got budgets to worry about parts on the shelf as opposed to just worrying about what’s going out the door from a production standpoint. It’s a balancing act for sure. Making sure everybody stays happy”

If you are interested in checking out more from the Mentorship series then be sure to check out Taste Your Future’s Youtube Channel!

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