As Roquette’s new plant protein facility scales up in Manitoba, Canada this year, it will set several benchmarks: It’s not just the largest pea protein facility in the world. It’s also one of the first of its kind to be built completely from the ground up as a greenfield project.
That meant years of planning, preparation, and design. For most who joined the team, it brought once-in-a-lifetime opportunities – and once-in-a-lifetime challenges.
“Every day, we’re working through unique mechanical situations and having to come up with solutions,” millwright Joe Orangis says. “It’s the first of its kind, it’s the biggest of its kind – and the quality of what people are doing here is beyond what I’ve ever seen.”
What makes experienced professionals say farewell to other opportunities and join a blank-slate, fresh-start greenfield project like ours? We asked four members of the Manitoba team what brought them there. Here’s what they told us.
A better way
“I still see machines here that make my jaw drop,” Orangis says. He was among the first millwrights hired for the project, joining our Manitoba team in summer 2020. Since then, he and other millwrights have been busy getting to know the plant’s equipment, creating documentation, and building the knowledge they’ll need to troubleshoot. Many machines in the plant are new designs that haven’t been seen in other facilities – which means Orangis and his peers often spend dozens of hours with individual pieces of equipment, putting them through their paces and learning their idiosyncrasies.
“We have to know these machines inside out,” he says. “I try to get where I can hear a ringing, hear a different sound, and know what’s happening just by listening.”
For Orangis, the chance to see technology move an industry forward was a big part of the draw.
“This is the NASA of the food world,” he says. “They’re hiring from all across the world, handpicking who they believe is the best of the best – so it was an honor to be asked.”
A bigger challenge
For Maria Krawec, the challenge of finding a better way was also part of the attraction.
“The fact that it’s a greenfield site and you’re starting something from scratch means you can build it right the first time,” Krawec says. As Hazard Analysis Critical Control Point coordinator, her job is to set food health and safety best practices, ensure the plant exceeds certification standards, and pass audits from customers and a swatch of international safety organizations.
“I ask, what’s the standard the government is looking for – and what’s the best way for us to get there?” she says. “Roquette isn’t new to this; we’re not reinventing the wheel. My challenge is to determine what’s been done and what is left to do. It’s like a big jigsaw puzzle.”
Krawec joined the team three years ago; her expertise meant she was able to give input even on the plant’s design.
“It’s a validation of my past experience,” she says. “I’d been teaching food safety for the past 12 years. This is my opportunity to take all that and apply it.”
A brighter future
For Samantha Cheffins, joining the Manitoba team meant more than a clean start – it represents a brighter future.
“This is a once-in-a-lifetime kind of opportunity,” says Cheffins, an HR generalist who helped hire and onboard more than 65 new employees between July 2020 and April 2021. “But it’s also about job security.”
The promise of pea protein, Cheffins notes, is that while the business has exploded, it still has a long way to grow. That means new hires are joining a market with a lot of opportunity and building careers with a lot of potential.
“During 2020, when most organizations were laying off because of COVID, we were the exact opposite,” she says. “It gave our candidates a sense of job security. They know we’re not going to be slowing down any time soon.”
A better world
But for most at Roquette, conversation about work eventually turns back to the mission of pea protein – a mission that’s bigger than any individual career.
“To work for a company that’s bettering the world was 100% of the draw,” Mike Dampier says. As a second-class power engineer at the Manitoba plant, his job is to ensure facilities have all the resources – from steam, to compressed air, to chilled water – they need to function optimally.
“Before this, I worked at an industrial site in British Columbia,” Dampier says. “I wasn’t planning on moving out of B.C. But when I heard what Roquette was doing, it totally convinced me.”
Previous jobs, Dampier says, offered him a paycheck – but not much more to feel good about.
“Now I feel better about myself that I went from a job that wasn’t improving the planet to one that is helping the planet and future generations,” he says. “This is what the world needs.”
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