Steve Hawes is a Maintenance Manager for AkzoNobel ICI Paints. He tells us about the teamwork involved in making a busy production line work and the importance of becoming professionally qualified.
What do AkzoNobel do?
AkzoNobel is the largest global coatings manufacturer, as well as being a major worldwide supplier of specialty chemicals. The sector I work in is the Decorative Paints business unit, comprising of brands such as Dulux, Cuprinol, Hammerite, and Sikkens.
Did you always want to work in this sector?
I knew from midway through my degree that I wanted to work in the mass manufacturing arena, where small improvements to a product or process reap huge rewards due to the scale of the operation. I had job offers from companies which complete one product every five years and whilst those products are pretty impressive, I felt that I could have a much more direct and immediate impact in AkzoNobel.
What have been your experiences to date?
My experiences have covered different areas of the supply chain process. I have ranged from front line detailed improvement activities, to strategic site development plans and have spent time at four different sites around the UK and France.
Starting out in the industry
I began with 12 months working in the Slough site as a Process Development Engineer. This role was a great introduction, as I quickly became involved in all kinds of site issues and worked with everyone from operators to the site management team.
I then moved to the headquarters where I worked in distribution for six months. My next role was in France, where as a Project Engineer I was involved in multi-million Euro projects. After four months, I was seconded to a project team at a different site in France in order to conduct an intensive site review and improvement plan. This was a great project for me as it gave me exposure to almost every aspect of the site and from a much higher level than I’d been used to.
So now I’m in my current role as a Maintenance Manager at the Prudhoe site, near Newcastle. I’m responsible for the day to day maintenance and all work carried out on site. Basically, it is my job to keep all equipment safe and reliable to provide my customers – the production team – with the ability to make their target volumes.
How well did the graduate development programme prepare you for a management role?
As my first management role, after two years on the graduate development programme, I now have a team of six employees and full-time contractors reporting into me, and a budget to manage. I feel that the graduate scheme gave me the training and experiences necessary to succeed in this role and in future challenges too.
Tell us about a typical day for you.
Usually I’d arrive on site at around 08.00, where I’d often be confronted with the activities encountered over the previous night. I’d go and take a quick tour around the site, checking that my team were working on the tasks with the highest priority at that time.
At around 9.00 I’d attend the morning meeting to inform the production management team of current site issues, after which I’d continue with my ‘day job’ – placing orders for spare parts, organising the workload of my team to ensure that reactive, preventative and training activities are completed and providing the best possible level of engineering service to the production teams.
At some point I would take some time to catch up on capital projects that I run – some of which would be in the planning phases, others in preparation for work to commence and others ongoing on site.
Around 16.30 I usually have a chance to sit down and spend some time completing paperwork such as invoices, reports, permits for the following day, expenses (very important) or even writing magazine articles. I generally try to leave site by 18.30, as I know that I will also be in quite regularly on weekends to oversee project and maintenance works.
What do you enjoy most about your job?
The thing that I enjoy most about my role is the huge scope of responsibility I have, and the variety that this brings.
Would you consider doing any postgraduate or professional qualifications?
I’m currently in the final year of becoming a Chartered Mechanical Engineer. I feel that this is a very useful qualification, as it really stands out as an independent qualification of competence achieved not through study but instead through your work experiences.
What’s the biggest myth about your industry?
That I spend most of my time under machinery with a spanner in my hand! The term ‘engineer’ is a much misused one. I am a Mechanical Engineer and a Maintenance Manager, however I have absolutely no qualifications to say I can fix machinery – I leave that to the technicians and electricians who work with me, who do have the proper hands-on training.
I do like to try and get stuck in sometimes too, but I’m usually only the unskilled labourer in terms of physical ability.
My role is to understand what they are doing, direct their workloads, and use my judgement to determine whether everything they do is cost-efficient, the right thing to do at the right time, and above all else, safe.
These are tough times for new graduates – what advice can you give for how people can stand out from the crowd?
You’ve got to sell your skills and experiences – draw them from everything you’ve done, be it on your uni course, with clubs and societies or from a working environment. You’ll be competing against plenty of people with the same education as you, so you’ve got to pick out the transferrable skills that you can show you’ve demonstrated elsewhere.
Trying to gain work experience via placements can be a great way to do this, but really anything that will make a recruiter sit up and take a proper look at that CV or application form is worth putting in. Oh, and start early – a lot of the best graduate jobs are on schemes with big companies such as AkzoNobel, and the applications often close soon after Christmas as they are so popular.
Finally, what does the future hold for you?
I hope to continue progressing through the ranks at AkzoNobel – this is my fifth role since I joined from university in 2006 – and take a route which will eventually include managing one or more production plants.