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  • Role: Graduate Trainee
  • University: Warwick
  • Degree: Masters Mechanical & Manufacturing Engineering


Designing robots, managing a team of ten, commissioning cutting edge technology and a new product launch = my time so far on the AkzoNobel Graduate scheme.

My name is Sarah Rivers and I graduated in July 2009 with a Masters in Mechanical and Manufacturing Engineering from Warwick University.

The graduate scheme for engineering graduates at AkzoNobel is made up of four six month placements in different areas of Supply Chain. So far, I have worked around the UK and further afield:

  • Slough on a paint manufacturing site as a Continuous Improvement Engineer
  • Newcastle as a Warehouse Supervisor
  • Netherlands as a Project Leader
  • Slough Headquarters as a Logistics Analyst.

What does AkzoNobel do?

AkzoNobel is the largest global paints and Coatings Company and a major producer of speciality chemicals. I work for a sub-business unit AkzoNobel Decorative Paints, who make and sell brands such as Dulux, Cuprinol and Hammerite in the UK and beyond.

How I got started

I first started out at AkzoNobel as a young enthusiastic summer intern between my third and fourth years at university. I had applied to them as I had always heard goods things about ICI (taken over by AkzoNobel in 2008) and I wanted to work for a UK manufacturing company.

After the summer internship I had to give a presentation on what I had learned, and a few interviews later I was offered a place on the graduate scheme!

I have really enjoyed being able to try out the different roles, as when I left university I was still unsure about what I wanted to do! I love being able to use my engineering skills in some placements, while in others I have developing my people management, or even customer service skills!

An example day

Whilst in the Netherlands my morning would consist of doing prep and attending daily meetings about the current project as well as talking to the staff in order to make sure everybody knew what had to be done. The rest of the day I might be updating plans and drawings, talking to contractors about quotes or stakeholders about the plans going head, as well as running tests and making sure notes are up to date.

What the interview process involved

The interview process involves an assessment centre with group exercises, presentations and one to one interviews. I was nervous going into the day however, everyone was very friendly and tried to help me relax. My biggest tip for an assessment centre is to speak up and have discussions with the other interviewees – don’t be afraid to agree (or disagree!) with their points of view.

Remember to look out for any resources available to you – is there a flipchart you can use to aid group discussion?

Stressful parts of my role

The most stressful part of the job has been being away from friends and my partner while living in Newcastle and in the Netherlands! However I have had lots of support from AkzoNobel during this time – with them paying for trips home and for accommodation whilst I have been away.

Case study – Warehouse Supervisor in Newcastle Manufacturing Plant
I was working on a key project for the site which was the implementation of SAP, as well as the daily running of warehouse and dispatch teams.

SAP is a new process control software for the plant, and I had to get up to speed quickly in order to resolve issues. I led the redesign of processes for several warehouse areas and to improve efficiency.

The work/life balance

I have had to work hard during my time on the graduate scheme, but my managers have always promoted a healthy work/life balance. I have had support and extra time off when I’m away from home, been able to work from home and been encouraged to join in socials with colleagues such as badminton and a book club.

What I want to do in the future

I would love to be a member of the Supply Chain Leadership Team in the future, and be able to shape the way that the business works. As a graduate, when finishing on the scheme you are considered as ‘high potential’ – this means hard work but great rewards!

Some career advice

Work experience whilst at university is key to getting into the UK manufacturing industry.

Many companies offer summer and year placements– it’s a great chance to learn a bit about working life, and also a good opportunity for the company to get to know you.

CV boosting skills include ‘lean’ techniques such as Value-Stream-Mapping (VSM) and 5S and, essential for an engineer and project management skills.

Communication and time-management skills are also essential, I have often been given a range of projects to complete whilst in a placement and being organised has helped me prioritise my work.

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