How can the packaging industry be made more attractive to the next generation?
The packaging industry, as a whole, encompasses an enormous scope of professions and technical skills. From engineers maintaining and creating highly technical manufacturing equipment, to graphic designers crafting bespoke designs for some of the most creative and innovative brands, the packaging industry is open to an incredible spectrum of talent.
Yet for many young professionals, and school leavers it is not an instant or even eventual option. With many over looking the industry, or not even being aware of its possibilities, young blood is not always readily available in the world of packaging.
In this issue’s Question Time we want to explore the processes which can be put in place to draw in those who may not have previously considered a career in the sector. The aim is to also explore the advantages to packaging companies in attracting young people to the trade, and how they too can benefit from the fresh faces and fresh ideas they will bring.
Nikki Clark, Marketing Manager of the Benson Group
Perhaps the most important aspect of appealing to the next generation is making sure that they understand what really does happen in the packaging industry. Whilst the printing element of packaging might seem old fashioned and dull to many a school leaver, this is far from the truth, with it being one of the fastest paced industries within the UK’s dynamic food retail sector.
When young people actually see our factories in action they are totally amazed by the fusion of computer technology and mechanical engineering.
The company brings youngsters into its business via both modern apprenticeships and work placements for university students.
Benson Group is committed to investing in and educating the carton creators of the future. The company’s apprenticeship scheme gives young people the opportunity to develop a career in a variety of roles including print, reprographics, and CAD. Knowledge gained on the scheme is underpinned by on the job training, college project work, and mentor support. Successful applicants are working towards a nationally recognised qualification as well as earning money.
Our Benson Bardon factory, near Leicester, currently has four apprentices taking part in five-year apprenticeship plans. They are working in CAD, repro, and two in print. All four attend Leicester College one-day-a-month as part of the apprenticeship scheme. Leicester College is now the only college in the UK with a print department, so we are extremely fortunate to have this on our doorstep.
Print is an industry with a traditionally ageing workforce. Once an individual has reached number one press minder status with Benson Group it is very unlikely that they will leave, especially with the up-to-date equipment that we employ throughout the business. Bringing apprentices into the business brings fresh, new ideas and skills. This is vital for moving the business forward and keeping in touch with developments in technology.
School leavers don’t typically consider print as an industry for a career.
It is less well known than it should be, and is maybe seen as an unattractive industry to the youth of today, who don’t fully appreciate that it is no longer a dirty, manual job. In fact it is now a very clean working environment that employs some of the latest technologies, including computers, colour management systems, and touch screen operating panels. Apprenticeships are vital in helping to publicise the industry to the next generation of print and packaging professionals.
David Midgley, our Operations Manager at the Benson Bardon site, explains “As a business we believe that we have an obligation to our local community to help in the development of young people in the area. By investing in young people we also believe that we are investing in the future of folding cartons, and helping to plan for our own customers’ future.”
I am convinced that other print and packaging companies should get themselves involved in apprenticeship programmes. Go for it! Invest in the future of the industry. Apprentices could be the key in developing your business, aiding the absorption and understanding of new technologies, and generating new and exciting areas of business for any company.
In addition to the traditional apprentice programme, Benson Group has also been working with Loughborough University’s Design Department since 2009.
During its relationship with Loughborough, Benson Bardon has taken seven design students into the business. Currently the company has two students working on a full time basis. They will obtain twelve months of real-life work experience in a busy packaging environment. “Our students stand to gain real hands-on experience. This is something that will hopefully form an important stepping-stone for them in their packaging design career. It also brings fresh, innovative new ideas into the business that we are able share with customers,” said Nikki Clark.
Benson Group also continues its sponsorship of the Schools and Students Starpack Awards, entering its fifth year of sponsorship this year. Benson Group will continue to provide competition design briefs for both categories with a monetary prize and work experience presented to the winners.
Commenting on the decision to continue the sponsorship of the Starpack Awards, Nikki Clark added: “We continue to be impressed with the level of innovative packaging concepts and the quality of the finished samples produced by both schools and students. The awards are a tremendous advert for the imagination of young people and their ability to design and create. We were also delighted this year at the number of entries now coming from outside of the UK, and would like to see this continue.”
Sam Ashton, Director of Packaging at Automation Limited
Packaging Automation is committed to high quality engineering apprenticeships. Now in its 50th year, the British designer and manufacturer of tray sealing and pot filling machinery is proud of the long standing engineering apprenticeship which it has offered for more than 30 years. Recent press coverage of apprenticeships has been mixed, and as a result of the rise in university tuition fees there has been a sudden increase in the number and variety of ‘apprenticeships’ on offer. However, concerns about the quality of some of these schemes have also been voiced. PA finds no problem attracting suitable candidates each Spring when the annual apprentice recruitment drive begins and has recently had to introduce an in depth full day selection program to guide the selection of the successful applicants.
Because PA’s scheme is employer driven and is designed to produce highly skilled individuals it combines formal training, further education on a day release basis and on-the-job training. It also requires a significant commitment from the recruits who will be expected to undertake the 4 year training plan. Each individual follows a personalised plan equipping them with a significant range of practical skills supported by NVQs at levels 2 & 3 and BTEC qualifications at Levels 3 & 4.
The scheme offered is IMechE approved and enables apprentices to achieve an Engineering Technician (EngTech) qualification. This allows young people to study for a recognised qualification whilst earning. On completion they are then encouraged to continue with their higher education and study at degree level. PA has many individuals who have graduated and currently has a further two who are studying.
PA has found that an apprenticeship scheme appeals to bright enthusiastic young people who would rather learn through a vocational practical scheme rather than in a classroom based environment. The scheme offered by the company exposes these youngsters to a wide variety of disciplines before they have to decide which area they will specialise in. Throughout the four year period, they are seconded to the systems (machine programming), mechanical design, tooling design, manufacturing, fabrications, assembly and service teams and are tasked with fulfilling and worthwhile jobs. For example they could be tasked with the design of a machinery component which they then manufacture on one of the machining centres. Or as part of the service team they may accompany qualified engineers to customer sites overseas as well as in the UK to attend to machine maintenance callouts or breakdowns.
Danny Robinson is 22 and has been an apprentice at PA for three years. He says, “being an apprenticeship allows me to continue with my education and earn money at the same time which is a real bonus. I am being fully supported and encouraged through my apprenticeship and I am looking forward to learning other aspects of business especially the projects department”.
The apprentices appreciate the fact that many employers nowadays value experience combined with qualifications above purely educational qualifications.
PA is proud of its apprentice scheme which enables it to ‘grow’ its own talent and identify the individuals who will become the managers, machinery designers, systems engineers, sales engineers, and project engineers of the future.
Past PA apprentices have successfully taken team leader and managerial roles within the business bringing a broad range of experience that the company values and consequently the company benefits from having a continuous flow of home grown talent.