From undergraduate to Coca-Cola Supply Chain – my journey

Grace Haywood graduated in 2015 with an MEng in Chemical Engineering. She’s now on Coca-Cola’s European Partners Supply Chain University Talent programme.

Grace will be speaking at the Women in Engineering event on Wednesday 1 February.

This is her story.

“I undertook a 6 month research & development internship with P&G during my 5th year and I am currently in the first year of the Coca-Cola European Partners Supply Chain University Talent programme. Presently my role is stock coordinator at the manufacturing site in East Kilbride.

I have wanted to work for a FMCG (fast moving consumer goods) company for as long as I wanted to study chemical engineering (I decided when I was 16), initially in R&D but after my internship I discovered that I preferred the atmosphere of manufacturing. This, paired with my experiences from my extracurricular activities, led to my decision that a supply chain role would suit me.  I also decided that I wanted to take a year out before starting a graduate programme. I worked full time for EUSA and then a small recruitment company during this time before going travelling for 6 months once I was offered the role with CCEP.

My part time job and my society involvement provided the vast majority of my application and interview topics and generated a lot of interest during interviews. In some ways I think these were more valuable than my degree as they introduced me to people management which is where I want to go with my career and gave me real, tangible and interesting examples of leadership.

“I believe everyone should have to work a customer facing role at some point in their lives as the lessons learned from working with the public are unparalleled.”

Throughout university I worked part time for EUSA bars. My bar job gave me experience in managing people; I led teams of all sizes in a range of different environments and also managed team leaders. I trained individuals, provided mentoring and also had to learn how to offer constructive criticism. I coordinated large projects and had to be professional and responsible under pressurised circumstances. This was also my first introduction to interviews and recruitment days; not only did I have to interview for each of my new roles, I also conducted and coordinated recruitment days for a wide range of new staff across EUSA. The insight and experience I gained was invaluable  when I was applying to internships and grad schemes. I believe everyone should have to work a customer facing role at some point in their lives as the lessons learned from working with the public are unparalleled.

I was also involved with a society while at university. First Aid Africa is a small charity that provides volunteers to teach emergency first aid in sub-Saharan Africa. I volunteered for the society twice, teaching in Malawi and Tanzania, and then became society president for 2 years. This was another great experience for my team leading skills. Again there was an aspect of recruitment, team management and training. I know my time as president for FAA was the reason I was offered my P&G internship.

“I learnt what I wanted from my career through my extra-curriculars”

If I were to look back and be very critical of my time at university I would have told myself to spend a bit more time studying. I believe I really grew as a person and learnt what I wanted to get from my career through my extra-curriculars but my degree was the solid technical foundation on which it all depends. I wouldn‘t have got the chance to tell interviewers my brilliant mentoring stories if I didn’t have MEng Chemical Engineering from Edinburgh University at the top of my CV. I didn’t make it easy for myself sometimes and shake my head at my past self when I think about some of the tenser moments.

My current role revolves around maintaining the stock holding of the warehouse ensuring what we think is there is actually there in order to achieve maximum case fill and deliver to our customers. I don’t use anything technical from my degree in my role but the skills I developed in project management are key to succeeding, as are my computer skills and ability to work with other people. This role gives me the flexibility to see how the manufacturing site works as a whole and exposes me to lots of different people. Next year I will move into a team leader role, usually in manufacturing. The final year of the scheme will involve a centrally based role that could be anything from procurement to new initiatives to central engineering.

The best part of my job are the busy days when I have to juggle lots of thing at the same time, the worst parts are the quiet days when it is a challenge to find enough activity to fill the day. The beverage industry is seasonal and work will ebb and flow so this is something I have to learn to manage.  I have to be very responsive and adaptable as each day challenges are different as when working with transport they literally change with the weather.

“My biggest mistake has been getting too comfortable in my role…”

When I first started I had several meeting with my managers to ensure that we were all aware what our expectations of each other were. We put together a development a plan and refer back to it regularly. I met so many people in the first few days and remembering names wasn’t always easy but a big smile goes a long way and helps when having to get some help from someone or perhaps having to explain that you’ve made a mistake. I recommend being honest with your managers about what you want from the role and where you want to be in the future. My biggest mistake has been getting too comfortable in my role. I was given plenty of time and leeway in order to get to grips with my day to day to job but once I got confident I didn’t push for the next challenge. Luckily as we had a development plan in place I was able to measure myself against my planned milestones and kick myself back into gear.

My top tip for people looking to go into supply chain is to get as much experience in leadership roles as possible and to look critically at your experiences in order to pull out the cross functional skills that you have gained. Employers know that with an engineering or STEM degree you will have the technical skills to fulfil the role but they need to see you have the initiative and resolve to work in a fast and evolving atmosphere. Most supply chain grad schemes aim to accelerate you in team leader roles so need to see evidence that you have the ability to thrive and bring real value to the business.”

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