Feeding the most vulnerable members of our population is a big responsibility – one which dairy processing expert Kelly Edmonds takes very seriously.
The 43 year-old works at Yashili New Zealand Dairy Company’s factory in Pokeno, just south of Auckland, which can produce 52,000 tonnes of premium quality infant formula product each year.
“We are a co-manufacturing site that supplies several markets (mainly China) with infant formula,” Kelly explains. “We also supply New Zealand and Australian customers with base powder using cow, sheep, goat or organic milk. This milk then has had vitamins, minerals, oils and prebiotics added to it that’s then used by the customer to make almost anything that has a milk base.
“We have to make sure the product is made in a sterile environment and if we don’t follow the rules and processes exactly, babies can die. It’s absolutely as simple as that.”
While the responsibility is huge, Kelly insists that anyone can get involved in the dairy processing industry at any age or stage of life.
“We currently have 18 different nationalities working here and a mix of ages from 18 through to late 50s. I really do believe that anyone can do it. There’s a good proportion of people who, like me, have changed careers half way through their lives. There’s also lots of mums returning to work after having their children who might think they’re too old – they’re not.”
Like many New Zealanders these days, Kelly has a wide and varied CV. She was once the youngest female business banker to be appointed in Australasia, has run a sheep and beef lifestyle block, and has driven dump trucks, loaders and diggers at quarries and civil construction sites.
But she grew tired of commuting to an Auckland quarry each day and quickly spotted her next move when Yashili began building their state-of-the art facility in Pokeno in 2012.
“I saw the factory being built down the road and I thought ‘I’d like to work there’. My children had left home and I was ready to sink my teeth into a new career.”
She was initially hired as an operator and was responsible for making the base powder and testing it to make sure the specifications were right. “I really enjoyed the challenge of actually understanding the process in more detail. I also loved the fact I could test the product as well as make it. It is a big responsibility to make sure everything is done correctly so it’s safe for babies to drink.”
Kelly was soon asked to help organise the company’s internal training and development and has been involved in helping Primary ITO establish their new Level 3 Dairy Processing Certificate. More than 20 Yashili staff are currently studying towards the qualification, and Kelly has just completed it herself.
“I like to lead by example by doing the course I’m expecting other people to do. I completed my Level 3 Certificate a few weeks ago and I believe I’m the first person in New Zealand to have finished it.
“What I personally enjoyed about the Certificate is the variety. It covers your quality, health and safety and your understanding of process. The answers are able to be customised to our specific company. When I’m marking other people’s work they can demonstrate they understand Yashili’s processes. I believe you get more buy-in if assignments relate to your everyday role.”
Kelly says five Yashili staff are also completing a three year apprenticeship at present to help kick-start their careers in the industry.
“An apprenticeship is an ideal way to get started in dairy processing. The beauty of Primary ITO training is that we can cater for everyone including those who absolutely dislike reading or those who struggle to write. The course is flexible enough that it can be tailored to individual learning needs so they can demonstrate the skills they need to know.
“That way you’re building up people’s confidence and their self-worth while they learn on the job. They become more invested in the business and tend to go further in their careers,” she says.
“As part of their apprenticeship they have to do their Level 3 Dairy Processing Certificate then the plan is to have them go through some middle management courses to prepare them to step up to supervisory roles.”
Primary ITO provides all the course material and sits down with each individual apprentice every few months to help them set individual goals and keep them on-track.
Kelly, who is now Yashili’s Health and Safety Advisor, says dairy processing suits people who have good attention to detail, a high level of hygiene, passion and dedication, clear communication and the ability to understand processes.
Primary ITO’s qualifications are recognised New Zealand-wide and Kelly says she’d thoroughly recommend the apprenticeship programme and the support that ITO provides.
“Our staff who are currently studying with Primary ITO are developing so much. They’ve gone from doubting their capabilities to being a confident operator. Doing the Level 3 Dairy Processing Certificate they will soon be in a position where they will mentor and help their colleagues through the same qualification.”