Dairy Application Technologist – Nosisi Mabandla
“I think I just love dairy”, these were the words which dominated my interview with Nosisi Mabandla. Most of our interview was filled with words such as “I love science” or “chemistry does not feel like work”, as Nosisi shared her world as a dairy application technologist with me.
Firstly, Nosisi holds a Bachelor of Science in Food Science majoring in Chemistry from Stellenbosch University. To successfully complete a food science degree at Stellenbosch University one is required to do some industry training for a minimum of six weeks, and it was during this training period at Fairwiew Cheese Company and Woolworths Food where Nosisi was exposed to the dairy industry. Years later she has never looked back.
As a Dairy Application Technologist at AECI Food & Beverage, her main responsibilities include understanding different consumer needs in terms of quality that they expect from dairy products, troubleshooting for customers, formulating the product, and using highly specialised equipment to develop the end-product. To better understand her job title, I asked Nosisi to explain her day-to-day job in clear layman’s terms. She reminded me again that every day is different from the other as all the products she develops daily, differ. However, she explained that one needs to learn and understand the equipment and reasons why every process is necessary. She provided an example of her first day at a dairy pilot plant (a pre-commercial production system that involves new production technology and/or produces small volumes of new technology-driven products). Firstly, she needed to learn and understand how to operate the equipment.
She did this by reading the equipment manuals, of which she admitted that she could not understand. However, with further exposure to the pilot plant, she was able to match what was written on the manuals and what was being done. Knowing the scientific background of certain set points was equally important, of which she added that one needs to know why the temperature is set at 95 degrees for 10 minutes for pasteurisation because if 10 minutes are exceeded, the proteins will not coagulate to produce the coat for yoghurt. Nosisi recalls studying different formulations of dairy products, for example there is a formulation for buttermilk and Amasi however, the bioproducts are normally similar and she could not understand why the by-products of the buttermilk are discarded instead of using it to make Amasi? This question she had to answer herself because I had no idea what she was talking about! Therefore, after the awkward silence of me failing to answer, she informed me that this is a result of the different fat compositions of the two products.
During the interview, I asked Nosisi what makes her successful in her job. She responded by simply saying, one can call her many things but one can never call her lazy. “With everything I do, I make sure that I apply myself. I do not aim for perfect, but I give everything I do by following the due diligence route. If I cannot not do it, I’d rather let the team know than wasting everyone’s time”. I had to quote her word by word because of the simplicity of her sentence, and this indicated that she is dedicated and cautious about time.
Regarding time, she emphasised the importance of having a daily planner, especially now that she is furthering her studies at Stellenbosch Business School while working full time. We then discussed the reason why she is currently studying. To this question, she found it important to first indicate that she did not start studying until she was comfortable with her work as a dairy application technologist and all the responsibilities associated with the job. For her, it was important to first understand the job title and what it requires and then identify key areas where she can develop, and what resources she needs to be well-equipped for her job. Currently, she is studying PGDip in Business Marketing and Administration. As she believes it is important for her to be able to fully understand the business elements and financial impact of her development work, for example the affordability of the products she develops. She added that it was important to study this course because she needs to understand her customers and her customers’ needs. Soon, she plans to do a diploma in packaging because her goal is to solve the food insecurity problem by developing a product which is nutritious and stores well at room temperatures. “When I develop something, I need to make sure that it is accessible and nutritious. I no longer see yoghurt development as just fermented milk but an opportunity to develop a product with sufficient proteins and can be preserved easily”.
In conclusion, Nosisi emphasised the importance of learning and allowing yourself to make mistakes. “Learning does not stop at university. As the industry is forever changing, you need to stay relevant and improve yourself”. Additionally, she encouraged young graduates to be confident, ask questions and make suggestions.