Food & Drink

Training leads to production gains


Engineering skills shortage. Attitude. Educated disciplined…Training leads to production gains

In times when production efficiency is crucial, and plant uptime levels critical, a multi-skilled engineering workforce is an effective workforce. Michelle Lea visited United Biscuits’ McVitie’s plant in Harlesden, to find out how MCP Consulting and Training is training engineers in the skills they need to keep production running

McV friendly staffMaintenance at a food processing plant

When you are producing biscuits and snacks 24 hours a day, seven days a week it’s not only the machinery and equipment you rely on, you also have to be sure that the operators and engineers have the level of competency required to get a lineup and running quickly should a fault occur.

This is certainly the case at United Biscuits’ McVitie’s site in Harlesden, North London, which produces well-known biscuit brands such as HobNobs, Digestives, Chocolate Homewheat and Rich Tea, and snack products including Nik-Naks and Mini Cheddars. With a biscuit typically taking two hours from initial raw product to packaged end product, it is imperative that each of the eight biscuit production lines at the site run smoothly, avoiding any of the bottlenecks, hold-ups and breakdowns that could cause production problems both up and down the line.

This was one of the reasons that John Holland, training & development manager at United Biscuits, decided to instigate a training programme for operators and engineers which would equip them with the skills they needed. MCP Consulting and Training was given the task of carrying out the training. According to Holland, he chose MCP because they ‘could deliver what United Biscuits was looking for, with the training delivered by experts who had a good level of practical knowledge.’



Initially, the training programme will focus on electrical engineering and mechanical engineering disciplines, with the aim of giving electrical engineers the skills to carry out basic mechanical functions, and vice versa. This multi-skilling will give engineers the knowledge they need to be able to perform basic maintenance and fault-finding on the production line in areas outside of their specialism.

Not only does this mean that more engineers are able to identify faults on a production line and make the necessary repairs/adjustments to keep it running, but it also means the individuals themselves are given the opportunity to expand their skill set.

After the theory training and some practical experience on training rigs, a ‘buddying’ programme allows engineers to put into practice what they have learnt in the classroom, whilst being supervised by a mentor. Holland said: “The ‘buddying programme’ gives the employees the confidence that there is an experienced engineer by their side, and also provides an independent verification of their competence.”

With the site running two-day shifts and one night shift, the mentoring process had to be flexible. It was essential that MCP could provide mentors who could work with engineers in the middle of the night, as well as during the day.


Holland is now looking at training courses that can help engineers measure Overall Equipment Effectiveness (OEE) and identify areas where waste levels can be reduced. Currently, he is consolidating the training that has already taken place, as he believes that there has to be a lead time of between 18 months and two years before any ‘real-life benefits’ can be demonstrated.

As the beleaguered population of the UK indulge in biscuits more and more to seek some reprieve from the economic doom and gloom, demand for McVitie’s products is likely to increase. Holland’s decision to invest in the training required to ‘multi-skill’ engineers may ultimately prove to be a timely one!


“The ‘buddying programme’ gives the employees the confidence that there is an experienced engineer by their side, and also provides an independent verification of their competence.”

United Biscuits

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