Alice Mureverwi (34) never imagined that she would end up a packing manager in an apple processing company. After studying industrial engineering in Zimbabwe, her country of birth, Mureverwi relocated to South Africa to work in the supply chain and heavy manufacturing industries.
The work she did in those industries left her unsatisfied, pushing her to look for other roles. To her surprise, she found out that her qualification is perfect for the role of a packing manager at a big agri-processing company in the Western Cape. The company specialises in processing apples.
“I love apples, I buy apples, but I never really thought about the whole process of how apples move from the farm to a supermarket. So, when I saw the job listing, I applied, went for the interview, and got the job. That was pretty cool,” she says.
Her favourite part of the job is meeting her goals and targets. “It’s very nice, when every single day you wake up and you set out that you want to do ABCD. And you achieve that. So, I’m really motivated. It’s a feel-good feeling.”
We asked Mureverwi to give us some insight into what it is like being a packing manager:
Please summarise for us exactly what it is that you do?
As a packing manager, I received a weekly instruction from our marketing team about how many apples we are supposed to pack and for which client. For example, say this week we’re supposed to pack up 21 containers of apples for Tesco in the UK. My job is to, [after getting my] weekly instruction, do the planning of how we’re going to pack all those 21 containers for that specific client.
And it’s not like we only focus on one client, we actually focus on a number of clients. Where it can get complicated is that I have to collaborate with other departments to check for fruit availability, and also collaborate with the quality department to check what fruit we can use. That is because of the maturity of the fruit and things like that. I also have to check which fruit is treated, in what way I can use it and for which client. And, I also have to liaise with the packing material department to ensure that we have the specific packing material needed to pack these orders.
Please tell us what a typical day as a packing manager looks like?
Work starts at 7:15, so you’ll get to work and check what you have planned for the day. Usually, you plan new packing instructions for your team a day ahead. For example, I’ve already planned on a Monday what we’re going to pack on a Tuesday.
So, when I get to work on a Tuesday morning normally, what happens is I check my emails. That is because things change all the time. Then, I’m on the production floor actually checking the start-ups, checking how the packing is going, especially when packing something that’s complicated or that we’re not familiar with. I will be on the production floor doing that, and you know, anticipating any problems that we have.
Apples are supposed to behave, and we tell ourselves that this size apple should fit into this size packaging, and it doesn’t always work like that. Sometimes you’re told you have this quality of fruit that’s available to be packed, but what it is on the system and what it is physically don’t always line up, so I’m on the floor anticipating things like that.
I’m also responsible for ensuring that I’m available for my team. Should there be a breakdown before they even call the maintenance department, I need to know. Also, if there’s any marketing changes, my job is to be as flexible and adaptable as quickly as possible.
What kind of qualification does this job require?
Currently, companies are asking for packing managers to have a background in industrial engineering simply because industrial engineers tend to be systems oriented. So, we are able to pick up where efficiencies can be improved, where there’s time wasted, how to avoid double handling of fruit, and things like that.
What kind of characteristics are needed to be successful as a packing manager?
You need a lot of patience. The thing is, we work with a lot of people who have been doing the same thing every single day for ten, fifteen, twenty years. So, you must have a lot of patience in terms of getting these people who’ve been doing the same thing for so long to understand why things are changing.
You also need have a lot of energy; the hours are long. It’s very hard and taxing on your body. Having emotional intelligence, or EQ, is very necessary because it’s quite a high-pressure environment. So, if you couple high pressure and long working hours, it is a Molotov cocktail for you to literally lose your mind.
Any advice for aspiring packing managers?
Be very cognizant of the fact that it is a high-pressure environment, so you need to always make sure that you focus on allowing yourself to be calm and not let the stress get to you. Quite a bit of the process is automated, but it is very people intensive, in terms of how everything works. So, you need to have that ability to just be able to take a deep breath, take a step back and be like ‘OK, cool. I’m gonna chill’ and do that. Still, go into it if you have the drive. It is very fulfilling.