Engineering grad learning the ropes at Fonterra

13 January 2022

Alumnus Tai Tuhiwai is enjoying his post-university career at Fonterra.

A process projects manager for Fonterra, engineering graduate Tairongo (Tai) Tuhiwai says remaining inquisitive throughout your degree and career will get you places.

Originally from Kawerau and finishing his schooling at Rotorua Boys’ High School, Tai chose to study at the University of Waikato because of its diversity and inclusiveness.

“Being from a small town I always wanted to attend a university that had a family vibe. I also had an interest in problem solving and challenging myself, so I picked engineering as my subject of interest,” he says.

“Engineering also stood out to me because of the highly engaged staff and the awesome facilities.”

Tai completed a Bachelor of Engineering with Honours, majoring in Mechanical Engineering, in 2019, before going on to complete a Master of Dairy Science and Technology at Massey University, through Fonterra, in 2020. At Waikato, he says his study highlights included the team work involved in the fourth-year engineering project as part of the annual Engineering Design Show, and his work placements.

“I did my first work placement at Allied Industrial Engineering in Kawerau, where I was mainly focused on Solidworks software and 3D modelling of large-scale machinery parts. This was a great placement as it taught me the fundamentals of manufacturing and learning different software, which I’m still using now in my current role at Fonterra.

“My second placement was at Genesis Energy, based at the Huntly Power Station. I worked alongside mechanical and project engineers on the natural gas turbine shutdown, which involved representatives from Mitsubishi – the manufacturers of the turbine – flying over from Japan to help work on it. It was an awesome experience and I learned just how standardised engineering is all around the world once you have learnt enough of the basics.”

After graduating, Tai was accepted into Fonterra’s graduate technical programme where, after a month-long induction, he spent a few months learning the fundamentals of milk processing across a variety of Fonterra factories.

“The knowledge I gained on the graduate programme and the practical experience in the factories set me up well for my next role as process projects manager for the upper North Island region, where I worked across fire engineering, procurement and inventory, reliability engineering, maintenance engineering and project management.”

After nearly a year in that role, Tai then moved to the Eastern Bay of Plenty as a processing supervisor in Fonterra’s Edgecumbe plant in November 2021, and he says he’s enjoying being part of the Fonterra family.

“I love the diversity of the portfolio of work I’m doing, and I enjoy the connections I’ve made throughout Fonterra. It feels like everyone is whānau and we work together to achieve a common goal.”

Tai says there are plenty of opportunities for future graduates to work in the engineering industry.

“I found that the two things that worked for me when I embarked on my career was hard work, and making an effort to network and connect with people.

“I also believe Waikato set me up with all the tools I need for success in an engineering career. At Waikato, you are learning from world-leading scientists and engineers who are there to make a difference. I would encourage any new student to ask lots of questions and to generally be inquisitive – it’s something you’ll need to keep doing post-university and well into your career.”

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