Welsh cy
Skilled Operative

What’s it all about then?

As a skilled member of the food manufacturing team, you’ll be right at the heart of making some of the famous foods you see advertised every day on TV.

As a skilled operative you’ll have received specific training which will enable you to do your job to a high level of specification.

In the food industry, the type of skilled people we need include butchers, bakers, machine technicians, engineers and cheese makers.  But the food industry is so varied you could be producing cakes, yoghurt, fish fingers, chocolate bars or diet drinks – in fact just about any packed or wrapped food you can think of.

You’ll be responsible for improving the production process and making sure that everything runs smoothly.

What might I be doing?

As all foods are made in differently you could be working in a variety of ways – in a meat plant for instance you could be working as a butcher responsible for cutting, de-boning and preparing carcasses to a customer specification.

As a skilled technician you’ll have the responsibility of ensuring that production lines have a constant supply of raw materials and all machines are running at optimum speeds.

You’ll also be responsible for ensuring that all critical controls are in place during the making of the food.

Food companies tend to operate a variety of shift patterns to meet the needs of their customers. 

Depending on the shifts you choose or get allocated, if you’re not on a standard day shift, you may work during the evening or night, or at weekends. If you do opt to work unsocial hours, you’ll typically receive extra money for doing so.

What will be expected of me?

You’ll be responsible for ensuring that the highest standards of hygiene and quality are maintained at all times. 

You’ll also be making sure that your job is done to a high degree of accuracy and speed in line with company expectations.

You should like:

  • Working as part of a team
  • Doing your own tasks well
  • Following instructions and procedures
  • Getting a good understanding of health and safety and basic hygiene rules
  • Spotting problems
  • Concentrating on doing a set number of activities really well
  • Being accurate and attending to detail
  • Working flexibly

What about the pay?

Operative salaries in the food and drink industry vary from company to company but start from around £13,000 a year. If you’re good at your job and have the right attitude, promotion and pay rises are very likely to come your way. 

Many skilled operators are paid a premium for their skills so skilled operatives are likely to be earning more than the £13,000 shown above. For example skilled butchers who are paid a bonus for their production output will earn well over £20,000 a year.

What qualifications do I need to get in?

Employers will expect you to have some GCSEs or equivalent qualifications but not in any particular subject (although Maths and English are always favourites).

All operatives in food companies receive training in food safety and health and safety during their induction, but having a reasonable standard of education (5 GCSEs including English and Maths) is very likely to improve your career prospects. 

Also, previous experience in certain skilled roles can be important – these include bakers, butchers, cheese and dairy specialists.

What about further training?

Your employer will want you to become even more effective in your role and will very likely provide additional training.

This will not only help you become more expert in your job but will lead to better career and pay prospects.

As a skilled operative you should expect specific training that benefits you in your role and also Level 2 and Level 3 type qualifications; these will give you a head start for promotions within the company.

Anything else I might need to know?

Yes, remember that you’ll be given lots of training if you show potential which means you’ll be earning more money and contributing even more to your employer.

The food industry is one of the largest local employers and there are companies throughout Northern Ireland. That means there are lots of opportunities for you to progress your career in food with loads of employers – the more skilled you are the better you’ll do!