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Being professional about your career

Bill Makely

January 29, 2014

6 Min Read
Being professional about your career

In a tight job marketplace, what distinguishes one applicant for a professional packaging position from another? Everyone has a degree and, because of staff reductions, many have packaging work experience as well. What employers look for next is professional education beyond school, and particularly professional certification such as the Certified Packaging Professional (CPP) certification from The Institute of Packaging Professionals (IoPP).

For example, Bryan Mahoney, director of North American packaging development for The Scotts Company LLC, the maker of Scotts®, MiracleGro®, Roundup® and Ortho® lawn and garden products, looks specifically for professional certification from IoPP when culling resumes.

“I hire staff, and I see a lot of resumes,” he says. “We develop a broad range of packaging, from spray bottles and shaker canisters to folding cartons and flexible packaging. Addressing that diversity requires a knowledgeable staff. When I see ‘CPP’ after an applicant’s name, I know that he or she has broad knowledge of packaging technology, but also had the commitment to the packaging profession to complete the rigorous effort required to study for and pass the examination.”

Senior packaging engineer Doug Compton, for instance, came to Scotts from IBM, where his focus was to develop packaging for mainframe computer systems and components. When he applied at Scotts, he was concerned that his resume would not accurately reflect his packaging knowledge and flexibility, given the niche packaging experience he gained with IBM.

“But the fact that I was a CPP outweighed the narrow focus of that work experience,” he says. “I have now worked at Scotts for more than two years, and I have been developing both rigid and flexible packaging for a variety of consumer products.”

From the other side of the desk
Joe Christensen earned Certified Professional in Training (CPIT) certification from IoPP while a student in the Michigan State University packaging program, and shortly after graduation completed the qualifications to be a CPP, a recognition that usually comes after several years of work in the industry.
“I had been involved with IoPP all through my college years,” he says, “both as a student and during my several internships.” As a result, he reached the minimum qualification of six years of experience in 2008, after having passed the certification examination in 2007.

When Christensen was hired as an associate packaging engineer by Covidien, a leading maker of medical products, much of the introductory conversation centered around that professional certification.

“It wasn’t a stated requirement for the job,” he points out, “but we talked extensively about the value of that broad packaging background and how it would play into the work I would be expected to do at Covidien. It definitely helped me get the job.”

For Delwyn Heyward CPP, a senior project engineer in packaging for Rheem Manufacturing Co., a leading manufacturer of HVAC products, water heaters and pool heaters, the path was more traditional, but the result was similar.

“I had always wanted to earn a CPP but it was two years after I graduated from Clemson, in May 1999, that I started attending IoPP events and getting more involved in local chapter activities, understanding that this would be beneficial for certification. When I joined Rheem in 2005, the vp of engineering made it clear that he wanted me to have this. After I was certified, my superiors shared my accomplishment with the other managers within the company. They were as pleased as I was.

“I have a new confidence with my CPP,” he adds. “It is a formal recognition to everyone I work with that I made a commitment to my career and took the extra step to expand my packaging knowledge.”

Building professional relationships
This formal recognition of the education in packaging technology that the CPP represents also benefits experienced professionals who supervise others or work with customers.

Tanja McCallum CPP, sr. packaging label development coordinator with McNeil Consumer Healthcare, had worked in the McNeil marketing department for some time when the company’s new Green Belt team was created to develop a formal artwork development process for labeling. Tanja applied and was made the artwork development coordinator of the new process. The success of that team soon required new members and was combined with packaging development.

“I was confident in my abilities,” says McCallum, “but I wanted to be sure that new employees, who did not know my reputation, would know that they were working with a professional they could rely on. My CPP designation does that for me.

“That benefit is extremely valuable to me, and also to the smooth operation of our label development process.  But it also makes me 100 percent confident that, should it ever be necessary, I can go back into the employment marketplace with more than a great reference. My CPP speaks volumes about my capabilities and my commitment to a packaging career.”

Mary Slaga is a sales consultant with packaging provider Tricor-Braun, a leading designer and source of plastic bottles, glass bottles, closures, and other rigid packaging components. Her work involves working with a wide variety of companies to provide them with the rigid packaging solution that best meets their needs.

“I need to grasp quickly what is taking place in each plant I visit,” she explains. “The education I got to achieve the CPP lets me understand the entire packaging operation in a facility, not just the part that I am directly involved with. That helps me build a stronger relationship with customers.”

It also has affected the way new sales contacts respond to her, right from their first meeting.

“When they see CPP on my card, they tend to see me as qualified and informed about packaging even before they know me. That is an invaluable asset for a sales consultant.”

The value of professional education
In addition to quickly evolving packaging technology, changing external industry and governmental controls, and increasing consumer demands, packaging professionals today––both new entrants fighting increasing competition for jobs and established professionals working to build more productive relationships in tight economic times––face unprecedented challenges. Professional education is more important than ever to being successful. Not to grow means to fall behind.

The certification process
To join the more than 1,500 packaging professionals who have attained CPP status, candidates must be current IoPP members and have six years experience in packaging or a closely related technical discipline.

The six-year requirement can be satisfied in the following ways: six years actual work experience; four-year college degree from a packaging school, plus two years of work experience; or a four-year college degree from a packaging school, plus one year for Master’s degree, plus one year of actual work experience. Completion of all four semesters of IoPP’s Fundamentals of Packaging Technology classes also can count as one year of experience.

Packaging professionals who do not have enough experience for CPP status can still benefit from IoPP certification. They can demonstrate that they are working toward CPP status by applying for CPIT designation. A CPIT candidate begins the process by submitting part of the registration fee for CPP certification—the balance of this fee is due upon application submission for CPP certification. The candidate also must demonstrate a high level of understanding of packaging technology by passing a standardized test.

Further details of the certification requirements and how to become an IoPP member can be found at www.iopp.org.

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