State-of-the-art plant drives success

State-of-the-art plant drives success
Oceania Dairy is a significant employer in the region, with over 90% of roles more technical in nature and very few manual labour roles.

Oceania Dairy’s plant is far from what many people expect a traditional dairy factory to look like.
Located near Glenavy, on the border of South Canterbury and North Otago, the Oceania Dairy facility is a highly sophisticated operation utilising state of the art technology to drive once labour-intensive and manual processes.
Oceania Dairy’s General Manager, Richard Hickson, says that whenever there is an Open Day at the site, visitor reaction is always ‘Oh wow, we didn’t expect to see this.
“People who don’t know a lot about the dairy industry think of a milk processing plant as a factory like a meat works.”
“But it’s actually closer to the pharmaceutical or oil and gas industries than any other industry that I am aware of.
“Our production staff are generally based in control rooms operating computers and running highly automated and complex equipment.”
Oceania is owned by large Chinese dairy manufacturer, Yili Group, and predominantly produces infant formula—all of which is currently exported to China.
“We are in the business of feeding babies. Our quality control and food safety just has to be first class, so we can’t have people coming into direct contact with the product itself – production has to be automated.”

State-of-the-art plant drives success
Oceania Dairy employs more than 300 people at its Glenavy plant, projected to reach 400 by year’s end.

Employing over 300 people at the plant, projected to reach 400 by year’s end, Oceania is a significant employer in the region, with over 90% of roles more technical in nature and very few manual labour roles.
Richard, who has been with Oceania since the senior leadership team was put together mid-2013, says recruitment of staff has been challenging from the start.
During Stage 1 construction, 80 staff were recruited ranging from managers, technical people, maintenance people, project managers, process controllers, lab staff and warehousing staff to get the plant up and running.
“Finding the right people with those skills was challenging.”
We realised quite early on that there was no way we could find 80 experienced staff at one time so we focused on finding the right type of people with the right attitude with a sprinkling of experience amongst it and built the experience base up from within.”
Referring to it as a ‘grow your own’ approach, Richard says the strategy has been successful, enabling the business to rapidly expand to its cur-rent staff levels.
“Part of the challenge is that people don’t want to work in what they think is a factory, so as an industry we struggle to attract young people.”
“We look for mechanical and technical aptitude and an adaptable can-do attitude to work. We can teach the technical part so the ability to learn complex and technical processes is key.”
With a strong duty of care to its employees, Richard says Oceania has recently made the call to put on buses for the many who work rostered shifts. “We plan to soon be running buses from Timaru or Oamaru to site and home again,” says Richard.
“It’s an initiative that has been met very well with our people.” Preferring to recruit staff from within the region, there are times Oceania Dairy has to look further afield to find the right people, including internationally when specialist skills are required.
While Oceania Dairy’s Open Days showcase the sophistication of the plant itself, they also help to dispel the myths surrounding employment at the plant.
“People can see we have fantastic careers in all sorts of interesting areas from production, automation, IT, engineering, supply chain, management and laboratory work.
“We also connect with the community, schools and universities to promote the industry and the kinds of careers people can take up.”
For example, Oceania Dairy offers a university scholarship programme, providing fi nancial assistance to help with studies, as well as offering paid work during the holidays.
The hope is that at the end of their studies the scholarship students will consider a career with Oceania Dairy, working within their fi eld of expertise.
Stage 1 of Oceania’s development was completed in August 2014 and included the infant formula drier, warehousing, administration block, laboratory, boiler and wastewater treatment.
Stage 2 included a UHT (Ultra High Temperature) plant for the production of long life milk, a canning plant enabling the formula to be canned directly on site ready for export, and additional warehouse space.
“We’re about to go to Stage 2a which is another UHT line, another canning line and a brand new lab—so by the end of the year we will be pushing towards 400 staff. And that’s being driven just by growth from China.”
Richard says Oceania’s milk suppliers are all from within a 50km radius of the Glenavy plant, which helps to contain transport costs.
“There’s a lot of milk within that 50km radius— with 73 farmers currently supplying us and a waiting list of about 60.
“There is room for growth to bring more suppliers on but it depends on whether we undertake a Stage 3 development. We have future plans to put another drier in and that is currently under consideration.”
Reflecting on the benefits that the dairy industry and Oceania Dairy has had on the community, Richard points out that before the dairy conversions going back up to 30 years ago, the area was in a fi nancial slump.
“Dairy has been the lifeblood of the area,” he says. “With over 300 employees our wage bill alone is obviously significant and that’s all going to local people; local families.
“We also help to retain people in the region by employing young people with families and that flows into education, accommodation and infrastructure.”
Then there is over $150 million that is paid out to the milk suppliers each year, along with signifi cant amounts of money paid to local suppliers and businesses who service and support Oceania’s operation.
“The flow on effect is huge. Oceania Dairy and dairy farming generally has had a huge impact on little towns like Waimate, Oamaru, and even Glenavy to some extent. The small towns in the region are doing very well now because of the flow on effect that dairy has had in the area and we’re proud to be part of that picture.”
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