January 23, 2020

UK packaging and print industries need to step up for young talent

msu-visit_4Tom Garsed, Marketing, Design & Innovation Director, Graphic Packaging UK, calls for action in the UK packaging and print industries to support the development of young talent in the country.

“At GPI we have a number of initiatives to bring young talent into our company including apprenticeship schemes across multiple departments, university placement schemes in packaging design and sponsoring the Schools and Students StarPack design briefs. The Starpack Awards are where creative packaging design briefs are provided by packaging industry sponsors to schools, colleges and universities. All of these activities enable GPI to connect and help train and educate young people considering a career in a design related function.  However, this simply isn’t enough,” says Mr Garsed.

According to UK Government statistics issued 15th June 2016, 621,000 young people aged 16-24 were unemployed in February to April 2016, representing an unemployment rate of 13.6 per cent, down by 116,000 compared to a year ago. Whilst it is clearly good news that the numbers are going in the right direction, and significantly lower than many European countries, the fact remains that young talented students exiting full time education do not recognise the opportunities the packaging and print industries provide. Fewer young people are therefore entering the industry and there are very limited routes for existing employees to get up to date independent training to support their careers to create long-term employee retention. 

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

“We have a fundamental problem in the UK with packaging and print education not pulling talented young people in to the industry.  All of my colleagues and peers are trained in other disciplines and may do a print or packaging diploma later in their career, if their employer is willing to invest. 

“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 longer term.”

The packaging industry currently employs 85,000 people in the UK – representing three per cent of the UK manufacturing industry workforce. Its productivity is more than double that of all industries’ average performance and it is a world leader in product innovation and manufacturing technology.

Jo Stephenson, Director of Women in Packaging UK, commented: “I totally concur with Tom’s view and am pleased to confirm that a number of industry players across the industry have come together to develop a packaging curriculum to directly support the issues Tom has highlighted.

“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 Post Graduate Certificate in ‘Advances in Food and Beverage Packaging’ to be launched at Chester University with further under graduate programmes to follow.”

Jo Stephenson 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.”

For many years, packaging manufacturing companies have been major recruiters of apprentices. Much of the industry’s skill base relies on this route to fulfil its employment needs and this is something supported by GPI customer, 2 Sisters Food Group. Leaders from 2SFG’s People and Talent teams have given their backing to the recently announced new industry approved apprenticeship programmes.

Keith Barnes, Chairman of the Packaging Society, also comments: “It is essential that we all encourage the younger generation to consider a career in packaging. As with other industries we sadly lack youngsters showing an interest. Packaging is highly diverse with many opportunities in Design, Technology and Development. Most companies will provide specialist training and of course, The Packaging Society provides a number of programmes to support the industry.”