Packaging sector calls for increased support for young talent

By Richard Stuart-Turner, Monday 24 October 2016

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Packaging industry figures want the sector to do more to harness young talent in the UK.

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Students from Michigan State University recently visited GPI's Global Innovation Centre in Bardon

Graphic Packaging International (GPI) UK marketing, design and innovation director Tom Garsed said young talented students exiting full-time education do not recognise the opportunities that the packaging and print industries provide.

He added this means fewer young people are entering the industry and there are limited routes for existing employees to get up-to-date independent training to support their careers to create long-term employee retention.

“With the country’s current employment level, it’s becoming increasingly difficult to fill positions in packaging technology, as well as other packaging related vacancies,” said Garsed.

“The packaging industry itself is also becoming more advanced so more detailed knowledge is required, particularly in the STEM and design subjects.”

Garsed said GPI had a number of initiatives to bring young talent into its company including apprenticeship schemes across multiple departments and university placement schemes in packaging design briefs, but he added more needed to be done.

“We have a fundamental problem in the UK with packaging and print education not pulling talented young people in to the industry.

“This is an exciting, complex and vibrant industry and should be supported by an appropriate training and education programme to attract young talent and retain employees in the industry, otherwise we’re going to have a major competitive problem in the long term.”

IMD Training, which delivers training courses for the corrugated sector, has previously run an apprentice course at Level 2 and Level 3 through West Nottinghamshire College.

But IMD Training director Ian Davis said the course had to be mothballed due to a lack of numbers and limited support from the industry, with only DS Smith fully supporting the project.

“We often summarise packaging with three letters – PPI - though recently those letters are better known for other reasons. For packaging this stands for protect, promote, inform,” said Davis.

“Maybe we need to look at this for our industry, where we protect our sector by ensuring we provide training and attract young people into our sector, promote our sector by raising our profile in schools and colleges and inform everyone of the opportunities for great careers in packaging.”

He added: “Following an initiative in the print sector we have been developing career paths that can be provided to schools. These start at grass roots, considering what a school-leaver might do entering the packaging sector.

“Each career pathway starts at entry level for a particular job and explains briefly what is needed and then what you need to do in terms of training to progress to the next level.

“If we don't have a vehicle to show young people what the potential is for a career in packaging, then how can we expect them to know anything about the amazing career opportunities on offer?”

Women in Packaging UK director Jo Stephenson said a number of industry players have also come together to formulate a packaging curriculum to help support the development of young people in packaging.

“A new Packaging Steering Group has been formed, with the backing of a number of retailers, brands, packers and supply chain partners, to advise on the development of bespoke packaging training courses with the support of the UK university infrastructure.

“The PackFuture initiative, as it is now known, has recently successfully developed a Postgraduate Certificate in ‘Advances in Food and Beverage Packaging’ to be launched at Chester University with further undergraduate programmes to follow.”

She added: “The group has a number of courses in development to fulfil a complete packaging curriculum including a certificate in packaging technology, new CPD courses and eventually a BSc and MSc in packaging technology. However, it’s a lot of work to develop the content and we need a lot of help from the industry to make all this happen.”

IMD Training’s Davis added UK engineering institution IOM3 (The Institute of Materials, Minerals and Mining) also runs a range of specialist courses in packaging from certificate Level 3 through to a Level 5 Diploma course, as well as bespoke courses and topical seminars.

“Idealistically, it would be perfect if we had an umbrella organisation that could co-ordinate all the different courses on offer, almost acting as a broker,” said Davis.

“This could make those wanting to train or learn more aware of what is actually available.”

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