Expect the unexpected
Technical Management in the Aerosol sector does not necessarily spring to mind to female science graduates, not least of all because there is little information about the great career opportunities through the usual graduate and recruitment consultancies.
So, when Christina Jenkyns completed her Biological Sciences Degree at Plymouth University, she knew she wanted to work in a scientific discipline – but didn’t quite know where. After a short stint working for the National Rivers Authority on a project basis (now the Environment Agency), she responded to an advertisement in her local paper in Somerset to work as a laboratory technician for Swallowfield, a member of the British Aerosol Manufacturers’ Association (BAMA). Swallowfield is a leading company in the sector.
Christina didn’t quite know what to expect from the role, however, she soon realised that she loved everything about the job.
“Even though I was scientifically trained, I had no idea about a career in the aerosol sector when I first qualified. Most existing higher education courses concentrate on cosmetic science and aerosols are only a small part of those courses.”
Christina explains that Swallowfield’s aerosol department works with high street retailers offering help, direction and support for its customers’ brand aspirations. Christina’s role as a laboratory technician involved carrying out stability tests, user trials, fragrance tests, laboratory reports and other scientific tasks that contributed towards new product development. A significant part of Swallowfield’s work is in the aerosol sector for health and beauty and Christina took over the technical project management of a number of its major customers, giving her more responsibility.
After 10 years, Christina’s husband moved jobs from Somerset to Birmingham and soon after Christina took the decision to join him. She loved technical project management in the aerosol industry but wasn’t sure how many similar roles there would be. She scoured the local recruitment consultancies and advertisements and then the internet came to the rescue. A vacancy as an ‘aerosol scientist’ appeared in Christina’s search results with a detailed job description made for her skills. The position advertised was for a local company, Reabrook Ltd, also a prominent member of BAMA, specialising in formulations, manufacturing and contract filling of aerosol and liquid products for private label customers.
“I couldn’t believe my eyes when I read the job requirements. I was so pleased to find something that looked perfect for me – although it did take me out of my comfort zone as I would be working with not just cosmetic products but more industrial, household and automotive ranges too.”
Christina soon found that the more industrial formulations such as greases and lubricants were often technically less complex than the personal care products that she was used to.
“One of the key requirements besides organisation for my job is curiosity,” she explains. “To develop a product from concept to shelf takes patience, as it rarely comes out right the first time. Accuracy and the ability to absorb a mountain of information and regulations is also key. This is where BAMA is so helpful, with their wide range of training courses and keeping us abreast of all the new technical regulations in particular.”
The aerosol sector is a specialised field, but Christina goes on to explain how those in the industry are really helpful to share their knowledge and experience. She particularly enjoys working with a variety of disciplines, such as valve producers, aerosol fillers, marketers, producers of component parts, machinery and ingredient suppliers and of course Reabrook’s clients, who include; Superdrug
Tesco, Marks & Spencer, Numark and many other supermarket grocers and leading high street retailers.
Christina finds her role very challenging, yet satisfying as she coordinates and liaises with a range of external and internal audiences whilst having to keep up to date with industry legislation. “I get quite emotional when I see a new product coming off the line, when I have been involved at concept stage. It gives me a huge sense of satisfaction. I have also been known to jump up and down with excitement when I see a product in-store that I’ve worked on.”
The personal care side of Reabrook has grown so significantly over recent years that Christina is now concentrating on new product development in this highly successful area.
Careers Advice for other female graduates looking to get into the Sector
Christina Jenkyns answers key questions:
• Why is a Technical Manager in the industry a good job for women?
It uses multi tasking and good organisational skills. It also helps to even up the balance of men to women that I still think exists in higher management in the aerosol industry.
This job is highly customer facing, as we have close liaison with our customers who are mainly large retailers. This brings us into contact with technical people and buyers in the retail sector, and women are often very skilled in the “softer” people skills that are required.
• What are the opportunities for career development?
Unfortunately for the companies involved, there are always people moving onto pastures new or retiring from the industry and I think that unless people develop and grow their roles within this sector, there will be some large losses of information, wisdom and experience. Clearly this offers opportunities for advancement.
• Are you able to encourage other graduates/women into the sector
Yes, very much so. Reabrook offer placements to students and graduates as part of their placement year, or as apprentices, which provides opportunities across all product sectors that Reabrook manufacture, not just Health & Beauty.
• Do you think women have a particular feel for this work as heavy personal care users or buyers?
Not necessarily, but I guess that having first-hand experience of using some of the products would be an advantage. There are plenty of men who have skincare regimes and use these products – we manufacture plenty of male grooming products, such as body sprays, shower gels and shaving preps.
It is true that there are a large number of women working in key positions within the retailers, and of course this also offers good career opportunities.
• Are you ‘rare’ in a ‘mans world or are there lots of female scientists
I sometimes feel in the minority when I attend conferences and seminars where women seem to be outnumbered by the men. I am encouraged by the number of young women who are coming through from school and university who are showing an interest in the sector.