Helping to JumPPstart careers in packaging and manufacturing

By Matt Jones in Packaging Education and Training on March 28, 2014

Let’s be honest—who didn’t like field trips when they were a kid?

On field trip day there was always an air of excitement, a certain buzz swirling around us knowing we were going to see something new. While we had a general idea of what we were going to experience, whether it was a trip to a museum, a farm or a visit to the state capitol, we never really knew what to expect until we got there.

I see that same sense of wonderment in the eyes of high school and college students when they come to Dorner for a tour. Whatever preconceived notions they might have had about manufacturing seem to fade when they see what an actual modern-day plant looks like.

But to start breaking down those preconceived notions means you have to get young people inside the plant—and that’s what the JumPPstart program is all about. Manufacturing has taken a hit as fewer people are considering the industry as a career choice. However, programs like JumPPstart can begin turning the tide by showcasing the job opportunities and benefits offered by careers in manufacturing.

 

Getting a jump on JumPPstart

JumPPstart is an initiative launched through the Education and Workforce Development Committee of PMMI, the trade association of the packaging, processing and converting industries. The mission of JumPPstart is to increase the awareness and interest in packaging careers among middle and high school students, technical and four-year college students, as well as college graduates.

This isn’t a national program, but rather an effort among local PMMI members in the Minneapolis, Milwaukee and Chicago areas. For the effort to succeed, JumPPstart needs to be a collaborative effort between schools, business and the local PMMI members – that was our vision when we created the program last year.

The group hopes to replicate other similar successful events targeting young people, such as the week-long summer tour last year that brought college students to packaging plants in the Chicago and Milwaukee areas. For most students, this PMMI-hosted tour was their first opportunity they’ve ever had to step into a plant. The benefits were many, including giving students the chance to meet with employees, ask them questions about their jobs and see how the equipment operates – all of which help break the stereotypes of manufacturing being dirty, hot, boring jobs. A second tour of PMMI-member plants in Minneapolis and Alexandra, Minn., is planned for college students this summer.

Additionally, some of the events we’re planning this year include plant tours of PMMI-member companies; setting the foundation for partnerships between local business and high schools, technical schools and colleges; and begin fostering a culture of communication to showcase the career opportunities available in packaging.

 

Addressing the skills gap

The reason why we need programs like JumPPstart is to help fill a skills gap in manufacturing. Some organizations have estimated there are more than 600,000 vacant manufacturing jobs in the United States. That’s quite a startling number, considering the rather high unemployment rate we still have. What that tells me is that there are jobs out there waiting to be filled, but people don’t have the right skills needed to perform them. So how do we go about closing this skills gap within the manufacturing industry?  We feel a good place to start is through education.

The goal of the Education and Workforce Development Committee is to build interest in the packaging machinery industry. One of our main strategies to accomplish that is to educate people about all the career opportunities the packaging industry has to offer. We all work in packaging and know firsthand that this industry is a destination career with great prospects for advancement. The problem is that many people don’t…and that’s where the committee comes in. Our aim is to raise the industry’s profile to help ensure it remains a healthy, strong and growing sector of our economy. 

 

Image repair

That leads into another part of the committee’s charge moving forward – public relations. Manufacturing isn’t a sexy industry. Young people today aren’t clambering to get into the industry, and that’s because it has an image problem. The perceptions for some is that a career in manufacturing is a consolation prize; an industry that accepts people who couldn’t cut it somewhere else. That couldn’t be further from the truth.

Manufacturing today is a high-tech industry that requires its workers to possess skilled training. Long gone are the days that people could walk in off the street and get a job. Equipment is state-of-the-art and requires skill and knowledge to operate. Plants aren’t dark, dingy and dirty, they’re bright, vibrant and alive with activity. They’re filled with engineers, electricians, operators, skilled trades, sales and support staff. Manufacturing is an industry with promise.  

To help training the employees of tomorrow, a number of technical schools and colleges across the country offer programs with curriculum tailored to packaging. Michigan State University, Purdue University and the University of Wisconsin-Stout are just a few of the schools partnering with PMMI on this effort.

PMMI coordinates educational initiatives as well, such as The Amazing Packaging Race, an event that has packaging students perform various tasks while visiting exhibitors at Pack Expo. Scholarships are also available to packaging students, including the Richard C. Ryan Packaging Education Scholarship. Ryan, Dorner’s former president and CEO, passed away in 2012. This scholarship was created last year and designed to help a student enrolled in a two- or four-year packaging program at any of PMMI’s partner schools.  

 

Conclusion

The long term solution to closing the skills gap in manufacturing will be through education and awareness. PMMI is doing its part to promote manufacturing and packaging, but the onus also falls on business to step up and make its contribution. Ultimately, we need to be encouraging young people to look at manufacturing in a different light, and when we do, I think the skills gap will start to close. Manufacturing has a good story to tell, we just need to do a better job telling that story. Change won’t happen overnight, but it won’t happen unless we as an industry take action. And that’s what we’ve set out to do.

 

Matt Jones, director of channel sales for Dorner Mfg. Corp., is also a PMMI Education and Workforce Development Committee Member. He can be reached at 262-369-1346262-369-1346 or [email protected].

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