Enthusiastic young innovator, Nicole Ong, has completed 12 months of the Food Value Chain Innovators: Emerging Leaders Program. Ms Ong is sponsored by Dairy Australia (DA) in partnership with MLA Donor Company to complete the two-year intensive program.
Throughout the program, and along with 15 other professionals, Ms Ong must complete intensive workshops and residential training. She is connected to industry mentor, Dairy Australia's Shane Hellwege, who is available to help Ms Ong during the program.
Mr Hellwege said he became involved in the program because Dairy Australia recognised the importance of supporting young, enthusiastic professionals, such as Ms Ong, to learn and build their career in the dairy industry.
"The scholarship provides a great opportunity for both Nicole and the Australian dairy industry," Mr Hellwege said.
"Australian dairy is a dynamic and forward-thinking industry. We're proud to support young and innovative professionals, like Nicole, and to help her grow a career and build connections in the industry."
The program is designed for young professionals working in the red meat, horticulture, seafood and dairy sectors. It has a whole value-chain focus and aims to lead participants through design-led innovation ù where they learn to put the customer at the centre of their thinking to drive value-chain innovation and growth.
"The program is all about understanding consumers, the value and supply chain ù understanding consumer problems, understanding their concerns and what value and services we can deliver to our customers," Ms Ong said.
Ms Ong completed a Bachelor Degree of Food Science and Technology at The University of Adelaide. She then worked at Coles as a quality inspector for fresh produce, before moving into her current position, commercialisation stream lead ù consumer packaged goods, at Bega Cheese, where she has worked for five years. Her role has a focus to drive and execute projects to deliver Bega-branded retail growth in export markets.
"The scholarship program is supported by my Bega managers and the leadership group," Ms Ong said.
"The opportunity has helped me to grow, learn and go forward in my career. I have also been offered an internal mentor, a Bega manager who is helping me with my career."
MLA Donor Company chief executive officer Dr Christine Pitt said program participants were of a high standard, had a motivated mindset and showed capability for innovation and growth. Dr Pitt said the program provided participants with theory and tools that they could use in projects and in real-life scenarios.
Ms Ong said she believed the program has provided her with the opportunity to not only build her career network, but to also share her new knowledge with colleagues.
"Companies, like Bega, want to do more in terms of innovation," she said. "So this scholarship was perfect timing, and with everything to learn, it's definitely beneficial. It offers such a great network of connections, which allows a lot of sharing and learning from each other, which is very, very good.
"We had an intensive week at the Food Innovation Centre at Monash University. We learnt to understand the innovation approach, and I could take the information back and share it with the business, because there is no point keeping knowledge in my head and not sharing it."
Ms Ong is part of the pilot program of post-farm gate participants. Next year she will travel to Wellington, New Zealand, where her group will be linked with the second intake of 2017 producer program participants so both groups can link, collaborate and build a cross-Tasman network that represents the whole value chain.
Ms Ong said participating in the program was a valuable experience and she looked forward to building her career further.
"I love food, whether it be cooking or eating," she said. "In future, I would consider focusing on insight lead, consumer-first innovation-related roles.
"I guess if you go back to five years ago I wouldn't have been who I am today. Today I've been given this experience and I've learnt a lot along the way." D
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