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FLEXO Magazine : January 2013
programs, of course, but compare this number to fields like aerospace and automotive engineering and their presence in front of general engineering students. Even Clemson University ’s well-established Graphic Com- munications program, which focuses on printing technology and packaging, is known as “the best kept secret” on cam- pus. Why the secret? STRENGTHS = SKILLS & TALENT Part of the industry ’s problem is also its strength—the industry covers a broad spectrum of skills and talents. From package design to plate creation, packaging covers creative, technical and manufacturing spheres. Highly specialized packaging programs do not yet have a foothold in academia, but they have the potential for broad appeal amongst stu- dents with the right support. The other part of the problem is the perception of the industry to the general public. In a recent article for Pack- aging-Gateway.com, Chris Lo calls packaging the “Invisible Industry.” When you look at a bag of chips, you see the brand Doritos. Maybe you see Frito Lay. But you certainly don’t see the converter that actually created the bag. Packaging is a $500 billion global industry, but the biggest companies in the world have no brand presence with the general public. When General Electric recruits the newest generation of aerospace engineers, there is brand recognition of the com- pany from its household appliances and consistent general marketing. The packaging industry does not have an equiva- lent direct consumer product sector. As a result the biggest players are relatively unknown to those outside the industry, so there is no familiar draw to qualified candidates. INTERNSHIPS & PARTNERSHIPS Within the job force, there is a strong tradition of on-the-job training and vertical fun- neling within the industry. Consider how many current managers started as press opera- tors at 18 and just worked their way up through the company. In packaging, experience counts for a lot. This training and continuing educational approach should be extended outside the industry as a recruitment technique. Educational internships and partnerships with universities will ensure a continued supply of qualified professionals knowl- edgeable about the packaging industry. If we want competent candidates, then we should invest in nurturing their develop- ment at the educational stage. Furthermore, the generation of new professionals can offer a lot more than just a steady replacement of a retiring workforce. Universities are primary hubs for conducting research and a key resource for advancing packaging technology. Students involved in innovative research projects at school are coming into the workforce having seen some techniques that are not yet widely disseminated into the industry. Experience counts for a lot in the packaging industry, but some experience comes not from years but from opportunities. These advanced technical experiences translate into op- portunities for young employees to take the lead on special projects exploring topics related to their recent research. The closer the ties between the industry and the educational pro- cess, the better the technological research and advancement between the two will be. Continued technological development in this industry means there will always be necessary continued education to remain relevant, at every level within the company. Those who are not proactive with their involvement will be left behind. n About the Author: Erica Morrison works as a production artist and marketing specialist at Cyber Graphics, Memphis, TN. She got her start with Cyber Graphics in 2011 as an intern while working on a MS in Graphic Communications at Clemson University. www.flexography.org january 2013 FLEXO 61