How to Become a Successful Maintenance Manager: A Q&A with Alek Zelnins of Gay Lea Foods

Ontario’s Food and beverage processing industry is a vibrant industry that has over 3,800 businesses and over 125,000 direct jobs in the province.  One of those jobs in demand right now is Maintenance Managers.

In this new series, we interview employees in Ontario’s Food and beverage processing industry about their career journeys, what their jobs entail, and the advice they have for people looking to get into the industry.   

This week we chat with Alek Zelnins, Maintenance Manager at  Gay Lea Foods:  

Tell us a little about yourself and how you got started at Gay Lea Foods?  

I started back in September 2016 as a Maintenance Supervisor. I used to work for Unilever Canada before, but they decided to close the facility and relocate manufacturing to the United States. So, I was forced to look for another job.  

I knew that I wanted to continue working in the food manufacturing industry. My journey working in food started in 2004 when I joined Unilever Canada. It was a facility that produces famous Knorr side dishes and Lipton chicken noodle soup. My first job was packaging mechanic which later grew into maintenance supervisor. During my time at Unilever, I got heavily involved in TPM, and since then, a big part of my career was around continuous improvement, in simple terms — how to make equipment safer and more efficient, as well as how to sustain the gains. 

Tell us about your current job. What is the role of a Maintenance Manager? 

The job of the maintenance manager is to make sure equipment and resources are available to run production in the most efficient way.  

In order to achieve that, the manager must ensure that robust assets management system is in place and followed, skills of the maintenance team are constantly upgrading due to newer technologies or equipment.  

Another important factor of my job is to analyze breakdown information to prevent future recurrence. Currently, I’m leading a team of 12 hourly trades and am in charge of the maintenance department of a dairy plant. Our plant produces liquid milk products, the variety ranges from skim milk (0.5%) to cream products (35%). All products are made using UHT technology

What is the most rewarding part of being a Maintenance Manager?  

Making sure that we produce safe food for our consumers. Responsibility for the maintenance department is to sustain manufacturing equipment to the high standard of CFIA and SQF

How would you describe the career opportunities in the food and beverage processing industry? 

You may start by working as a mechanic on the production floor and advance into management, such as lead head and or maintenance supervisor or head into business administration or food science as you complete more training and education.  

Another possible opportunity is to get involved in controls, start with a basic course on how controls work, advance to troubleshooting and basic programming skills. Mechanics with control skills and experience are capable of resolving the majority of the issues when production or processing line requires attention due to the downtime. This helps companies to have a cross-functional team, keeping the maintenance team within the budget. 

Another carrier path is if you would start as a production helper/general labour/machine operator and get enrolled into an apprenticeship program to be an Industrial Mechanic Millwright or an Industrial Electrician  

What’s one piece of advice you’d give someone who’s considering starting their career in the food & beverage processing industry? 

They will be joining a team of essential workforce and will be working in GMP regulated facility, which provides a cleaner working environment. They will also get exposure to the latest technology in manufacturing equipment. There’s also more Job security and higher hourly rate compared to similar jobs from non-food manufacturing. 

CareersNOW! Mentorship Sessions 

Want to learn more about what a career in the food and beverage manufacturing industry could look like for you?   

Sign up for one of CareersNOW!’s upcoming career mentorship sessions! Whether you’re a college or university student planning your career in the industry or just starting to think about your future, these mentorship sessions will help you the chance to virtually meet with leading professionals to get great career advice and learn about exciting career pathways.   

Alek recently took part in a session earlier in September. You can watch below: 

The next session takes place October 19, sign up today

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