Claire – Senior Technical Manager

Future Morph recently caught up with Claire Valentine, the Senior Technical Manager at Soleco UK to find out all about her job and how she got to where she is today. We even found out her hobbies and which superpower she would love to have! Stick with us – we’ll give you all the insider information.

The Big Picture…

When you were a child, what did you want to be when you grew up?

I started out wanting to be a vet at age 14 but developed a fascination with nutrition and food at age 16. During my A-Levels, I also studied a BTEC in Vocational Education which my school required all A-level students to study. It was varied and modular and gave me an insight into a number of actual jobs that ‘real’ people do. I took a module on food science that was taught by my Chemistry teacher and I knew then that I would study Food Science at Degree level. My teacher was enthusiastic about the subject and the practical’s were fun and relevant to the working world. Importantly, my teacher Mr. Cooper showed us that Food Science is all about Chemistry. It is really very little to do with cooking which is the perception that some people will have. Particularly because it sits in Design and Technology in the curriculum and not in science, where it belongs. You do not have to be any good at cooking to be a scientist (as my Fiancée will testify!)

Who or what inspired you to become a scientist?

My parents inspired me. My Father was very keen for me to follow the ‘harder’ subjects such as science and my mother said “people will always need food”. So it came naturally with my delight in learning about how the natural world works in all its forms. I could have gone down the environmental science route or even into medicine but I would always be a scientist. I love to paint and enjoy art but it’s really hard to make money out of that and it will always be with me as a hobby if I ever get the time! I like that science is investigative, there are questions and you have to find answers and justify your conclusions.

What do you love about your job and what would you change?

A senior technical manager earns a good salary and I also have a company car because I travel in my role. The benefits are good too. I also like the company and the people I work with. It is really satisfying to manage a team of motivated staff. I do not think I would change anything about my role.

Education…

What qualifications did you take at school/college?

I took Biology, Chemistry and Art A-Level and then did a BSc (Hons) in Food Science and Nutrition and then a Masters in Food Systems Management.

Did you go to university? Was a degree required for your role?

I did go to Uni for my first degree as it is strongly recommended for my role if you want to progress up the career ladder quickly. A degree gives you the factual information you need to be a technical manager. I decided to take a masters degree only because I joined a Teaching Company Scheme where I worked full time as a Technical Manager and was being paid whilst I studied.

Are there opportunities for apprentices within your organisation?

Not currently, though we will see what happens in the future. We may start to take placement students next year which is a really good idea. I did two gap years. One between A level and Degree, and one during my degree. I worked full time in the food industry in each year and therefore was able to save up to pay for my time at Uni. It meant that I left Uni with a lot of relevant work experience that nearly all the other graduates did not have.

Job…

What does your typical day involve?

There is not a typical day! It would be easier to tell you the types of activities I get involved in. I select the activities for each day based on prioritising the needs of the business. It is a highly autonomous role. I audit suppliers and growers of lettuce to ensure they are achieving our food safety standards, I develop and implement the food safety management systems for both manufacturing sites and I manage two teams that look after the quality of the product and ensure we are producing the correct specification of product.

What gives you the most job satisfaction?

Saving money on the bottom line does actually make me feel valuable. I also like to see members of my team achieve new things and develop. Getting a good audit result probably tops the feel good factor.

What are the biggest implications your work will/could have in the future?

Well that could be a very long answer. Feeding people will be a requirement of the human race for as long as we are on this planet, but feeding them safely with all the challenges of allergies, food poisoning, food scarcity, obesity etc means that food production will always need good scientists. In the next 30 years, my career will be about protecting consumers from unsafe food and developing new food products that meet their needs.

How well is your job compensated? What is the starting salary for someone in your field and how much can this be expected to rise?

A typical site technical manager will be on somewhere between £40k and £50k depending upon the size of the business and the complexity of the products and their experience. If you have responsibility for more than one site you can command a higher salary.

Life…

What do your friends and family think about your job?

My friends think it sounds like hard work because of the hours that can be worked sometimes, but they empathise with me as they are hard working too.

Would you say you have a good standard of living/work-life balance?

On the whole, yes. I get most weekends to myself now which is good though we do have an on-call rota for those weekend crises. The evenings can often be late but on the whole it is balanced for the role I have.

What kind of hobbies or extracurricular activities do you do to relax?

I run to relax and keep fit and I do this 3-4 times per week depending upon my work schedule.

 …and finally

What would you like people to remember about your life as a scientist?

Always draws conclusions based on good scientific investigation and data analysis.

If you had a super power, what would it be?

To be able to fly so I could go and visit lots of remote countryside places easily and with great views.