Industry Q&A: Production Supervisor

As part of our new Q&A series we interview you, and find out what your job is day to day. In this edition we speak to Matthew Arblaster, a production supervisor at Bayer and a nominee for the 2013 Endeavour Awards Young Manufacturer of the Year award.

Manufacturers' Monthly: What are your primary roles and responsibilities in your job? Give us a day in your working life.

Matthew Arblaster: I am responsible for production department of the Australian site of Bayer MaterialScience. In this role my biggest and most challenging task is to mentor the Production and Maintenance teams to ensure we have a culture of Safety, quality and efficiency. This involves me working with and developing team leaders and operators so that they can make the correct decisions and build on their knowledge to ensure the plant runs smoothly. I run and coordinate training days for the teams to align and develop skills and aim to create a development culture.

As well as this I help production operators and maintainers solve problems and address any critical issues that may arise. Another key responsibility is to work with scheduling to coordinate future production and develop new products. I also need to ensure that I am “on top” of the happens of the 24hr plant to ensure production runs according to plan . . . put things back on track when things go array. 

Other parts of my role involve being the global lead for efficiency which involves coordinating the shared knowledge with my global counterparts to ensure we learn from each other and deliver best practices. 

One of the things i love about my job is that no two days are the same, and even the best planned day can take a completely different course, which can create some new and interesting challenges.

MM: What training/education did you need for your job?

MA: I believe there are three areas of skill set in any job being technical, financial and people skills. For technical skills my engineering degree gave me the problem solving skills I needed to be able to learn onsite more about my industry and how the equipment I was working with operated. For financial skills I am focused on completing the MBA as this gives me a broad understanding of all business disciplines. For people skills this is the hardest one as there is no set recipe that can be taught. I have been fortunate enough for Bayer to send me on leadership courses to give me the theory’s, but the real learning comes from reflecting on conversations and thinking “how did that go, how could I have done that better?” and continually challenge yourself.

Due to my love of manufacturing as a child, spending Saturday mornings in my father’s factory and any other free time pulling apart my mother’s cake mixer just to see how it worked, I enrolled in a Bachelor of Industrial Engineering and Engineering at Monash university – this was the only manufacturing focused course I could find and had far more human and business focused subjects than more traditional engineering courses.

Since then I have completed a certificate 3 in Accounting, a Diploma of management and have attended the Bayer Leadership course and the Global excellence in operations course. 

To improve my business skills I am currently completing a MBA at Victoria University

MM: How did you get to where you are today? Give us a bullet point career path.

MA: During my 3rd year at university I needed to complete a summer work experience for my engineering course, I applied at Bayer and I was lucky enough to be selected. Working there for 5 years I was given challenging and rewarding projects including managing the maintenance department, project managing a $6M new production line and a large upgrade to the existing machinery.

From here seeking new challenges, I moved to Fosters Wine Estates to become the plant engineer at the state of the art Wolf Blass Packing Center to help implement lean manufacturing. I then took a position implementing an environmental government program as well as Capital projects in the engineering team, which gave me the opportunity to travel to many of Fosters sites to work with the different local teams.

At this point I wanted to focus my career on people management and leadership, and for this I needed to understand what it was like to work on the shop floor and be managed. To obtain this experience I took an opportunity at a Fosters winery in the Napa Valley in California USA, where I shoveled grapes, operated the crusher and drove forklifts. 

Looking to continue developing leadership and people management I returned to Bayer to manage production and work for my mentor Bruce Scott.

MM: What tools and/or software do you use on a daily basis?

MA: Basic computer

MM: What is the one thing that you are most proud of in your professional life?

MA: How my team has come together with a very proactive attitude and will challenge themselves. For this we won the annual Bayer Achievement award in 2012

MM: Biggest daily challenge?

Balancing the daily demands of plant management to the longer term tasks. 
This task is becoming easier by developing and empowering my team to make decisions, freeing me to focus my time on longer term goals.

MM: Biggest career challenge?

MA:Many challenges, but when i look back they have all been human focused. Machines are complex but logical, people are complicated and i am learning that it takes different styles for engaging different people.

MM: What is your biggest frustration in your job?

MA: In the whole manufacturing industry we are all doing more and more with less, but it’s about finding simple ways to complete the new tasks which is easier said than done.. . . in the end its about questioning at the core of this task what function does this do and how do we do this simply.

MM: What is the biggest challenge facing your business?

MA: Higher cost pressures are a problem for everyone in manufacturing around the world and we are expected to do more with less, through building a strong base of skill and flexibility in our teams and thinking long term with our equipment we can be competitive. 

Chinas costs are increasing rapidly which will open up more opportunities for Australian manufactures, by making sure our plants and teams are skilled and ready we can grab them.

MM: Is there anything else about your job you want Australia to know about?

MA: I really want to thank my Father and Bruce Scott who have both been amazing mentors to me throughout my career to date, as well as Bayer for the career opportunities they have provided me.

This article is part of Manufacturers' Monthly's new industry map, where we try to build a picture of the manufacturing industry job by job.

 To be a part of it and take the Q&A yourself click here.
All entries can be anonymous.

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