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Nicole Ong's success story

Enthusiastic young innovator, Nicole Ong, has completed 12 months of the Food Value Chain Innovators: Emerging Leaders Program.

Nicole is sponsored by Dairy Australia in partnership with MLA Donor Company, to complete the two-year intensive program. Nicole heard about the opportunity through her manager at Bega Cheese, who encouraged her to apply.

Pictured L-R: Ian Halliday, Managing Director - Dairy Australia; Nicole Ong - Bega Cheese; Tracy Lloyd, Program Manager - Industry Capability, Dairy Australia & Sally Roberts, Program Manager – Workforce Development, Dairy Australia

“I thought: ‘the opportunity is there and it will open doors, so why not take it?’” she said. “My manager put me through for the opportunity and the next day DA rang me and I went for an interview.”

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 – 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 -understanding consumer problems, understanding their concerns and what value and services we can deliver to our customers,” Nicole said.

Nicole 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 – 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,” Nicole 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.”

Throughout the program, and along with 15 other professionals, Nicole must complete intensive workshops and residential training. She is connected to industry mentor, Shane Hellwege, Program Leader - People and Capability, who is available to help Nicole during the program.   

Shane said he became involved in the program because DA recognised the importance of supporting young, enthusiastic professionals to learn and build their career in the dairy industry.

“The scholarship provides a great opportunity for both Nicole and the Australian dairy industry,” Shane 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.”

Dr Christine Pitt, CEO of MLA Donor Company, said that program participants are of a high standard, have a motivated mindset and show capability for innovation and growth. Christine said that the program provides participants with theory and tools that they can use in projects and in real life scenarios.

Nicole believes 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. 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,” she said.

“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!”

Nicole 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.

Nicole said participating in the program was a valuable experience and she looks forward to building her career further.

“I love food, whether it be cooking or eating. In future, I would consider focusing on insight lead, consumer first innovation related roles,” she said.

“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.”

Nicole’s tips for others wanting a career in agribusiness:

-  Sign up for industry memberships (like The Australian Institute of Food Science and Technology) and subscribe to their monthly magazine. There is a lot of information about what is happening in food and agribusiness.

- Visit food related expos, there are plenty around Australia for packaging, hygiene, good food festival, etc.

- Most importantly, working in food industry or food business, you need to have passion for food and you need to understand how food is made, where food comes from, and goes – the whole supply chain.

- Look out for internships, scholarships and programs offered by the industry. If the opportunity is there and you want to do it - do it! You’ve got nothing to lose.


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This project is supported by Dairy Australia and MLA Donor Company, through funding from the Australian Government Department of Agriculture and Water Resources as part of its Rural R&D for Profit programme.

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