As packaging companies struggle to navigate the changing labor market, a previously untapped talent pool has revealed itself: high-school students. By offering these teens apprenticeships and internships, equipment manufacturers and brand owners can help build the next generation of employees.
The combined pressures of an aging workforce and a scarcity of talent to fill skilled packaging jobs are driving more companies to create learning opportunities for this young cohort.
Employers as well as students benefit from the arrangements. Students experience life on-the-job in a packaging environment, which can help them determine if packaging is a good career fit for them. They also get the chance to add an experiential learning opportunity to their resumes or college applications. They may even get paid.
The companies, in turn, benefit from motivated, enthusiastic workers who bring youthful energy and curiosity, plus new ideas and perspectives, to the workplace. By attracting young people to packaging and manufacturing even before they’ve chosen a career path, these programs also give employers a chance to shape their future workforce.
Saukville, WI-based Matrix Packaging Machinery, which manufactures vertical form-fill-seal equipment and other flexible packaging machinery, offers internships for high-school and college students. It has also created an apprenticeship to offer local high-schoolers a hands-on education in manufacturing.
Matrix found its first apprentice, Sam Kurten, through the Ozaukee Youth Apprenticeship program. Kurten is currently a senior at Cedarburg High School in Cedarburg, WI, and has been a paid apprentice at Matrix for more than a year. His apprenticeship, which emphasizes interactive learning and on-the-job training, will conclude at the end of 2022.
Through his apprenticeship, Kurten has learned machining skills, honed his critical thinking and problem-solving skills, gained insight into the role of engineering in manufacturing, and learned how departments work together.
Kurten’s intelligence and interest in machining and engineering have served him — and Matrix — well. “His attitude and aptitude [have] worked extremely well with the Matrix culture,” says Eric Walker, mechanical engineering manager at Matrix, who works closely with the apprentice.
“Sam works on a variety of what we call incremental engineering development projects — basically he assists the lead engineer in completing smaller sections of a larger project,” adds Christine Duncan, marketing manager, flexibles and trays, at Matrix. “This is designed to not only assist the engineering team, but provide a well-rounded learning experience for Sam.”
Technically, Kurten is an apprentice because of the affiliation with the Ozaukee program. But “we here at Matrix think of it more as a focus on teaching, training, and preparation for the person,” Duncan says. This type of experience gives the student “the opportunity to explore in-depth options to determine a career path.”