Better Minds, Better Boxes
By Jana Harris
November 9, 2022
Editor’s note: The following article is an expansion of the Chair’s Message from the print version of November/December BoxScore. This full version is adapted from AICC Chair Jana Harris’ opening remarks from Wednesday, September 21, at Corrugated Week.
Good morning. Thank you for the opportunity to serve as your Chair for the coming year. I am Jana Harris, and I am the CEO and co-owner of Harris Packaging and American Carton, along with my sister Jenise Cox and our father and founder Joe Harris.
Harris Packaging is a sheet plant in Fort Worth, Texas, founded in 1976, and American Carton is a folding carton plant in Mansfield, Texas, founded in 1992.
Better Minds, Better Boxes: Investing in the Future Through Education. Why have I chosen this theme?
I have a passion for education, especially for education of those who could consider a career in our industry.
I became active with our local university, the University of Texas at Arlington (UTA), when the International Corrugated Packaging Foundation (ICPF), back in 2013, partnered with their College of Liberal Arts to help them introduce packaging design and graphics into their course offerings.
The president of UTA at the time loved this because it gave art students another career avenue that they probably had not ever considered. He thought so highly of the addition of the packaging program, he asked me to sit on his advisory board, which I am currently still active on under our new president who was hired on this year.
Other avenues of how I have gotten involved on campus are myself and/or some of our employees go every semester to speak about our industry to the College of Business during their Business Week. We also volunteer to be judges in their sales competitions, which, incidentally, has helped us snag some good sales folks. Harris Packaging sponsors a Joe Harris scholarship in the College of Liberal Arts in honor of our father. He has enjoyed getting to pick out the winner every semester. He graduated from UTA, as did I, but he put himself through school while having a family and working, so it means a lot to him to help others that are in the same boat. Since our involvement at UTA, we have hired 10 students for sales, marketing, and design. It has been a great avenue for us to find employees. We are connected now with the deans, the faculty, and frankly the president, so when we need to collaborate with UTA or need someone to hire, I just pick up the phone and we get the best of the best. Honestly, the benefit our companies have received for just investing a few days a semester on campus has been well worth the time. If you are not doing the same with your local schools, I recommend that you consider doing so.
So, with sharing that little bit of background about my passion, in this coming year I am going to continue to focus on getting the word out about our industry to the next generation of workers. I see three avenues through which our industry can do this.
First, through the continuing involvement and investment in our industry foundations—the first one being ICPF, which is working in partnership with colleges and universities. And the second and most recent foundation is the Foundation for Packaging Education, which supports leadership training for our industry’s employees. ICPF plays a great role in bringing bright four-year and two-year college and university students to our plant doors; and AICC’s Foundation for Packaging Education continues their development once they become our employees and are inside our doors. It takes money for these two much-needed foundations to do the important work that they are doing. Please continue to support or consider supporting both foundations; they are vital to the future of our industry.
Second, I believe we need to tap into the pool of talent that is in our trade schools and STEM high schools. We all have the same problem of finding people for our plant floor, and this labor issue has been amplified in these past two years.
I believe by collaborating with those within the corrugated, folding carton, and rigid box industries, we can introduce paperboard, rigid box, and corrugated packaging to an audience that has no idea we exist.
I have already been speaking with others in these various industries who share the same goals of connecting with STEM schools—some that have already made some decent headway. We are thankful to be learning from their experiences. I have also started a relationship with my local HS STEM school, Ben Barber, and the powers that be are very interested in offering packaging education in some of their courses. We have only just begun this conversation and will be working with AICC and ICPF on how to make this happen. Ben Barber is aware and OK with being a guinea pig for us, so hopefully during this next year, I will have more exciting news to share with you on the topic of STEM and how we can connect.
Finally, I don’t want to forget the young people already working in our industries. Both AICC and TAPPI have invested heavily in their respective Emerging Leader (EL) and Young Professionals programs, and these are for the benefit of our companies both members and Associates. If you have young, promising leaders in your companies, please involve them in our industry associations. Jenise and I currently have three participating in the ELs. My daughter Jordan Dawson, who just was voted in as freshman delegate (congrats, J, and you worked hard to receive that vote). My nephew Payton Cox, who just started working with us at HPC this year, is eager to learn from the others here, and Shaban Al-Refai, who has been a designer for us for seven years—he is a UTA graduate and has taught some of the packaging courses at UTA in the evenings. This summer as first vice chair we got to host the Emerging Leaders trip. Spending time with them, seeing what they were learning from their facilitator Taryn, what they were learning from one another and seeing their excitement to be in our industry gave me a lot of confidence in the future health and growth of our industry. I highly recommend these programs for your upcoming superstars. As an owner, I know it takes some time away from their jobs and also costs us a little bit of money to get them to the events, but we believe it is well worth the investment.
In closing, my experience spending time on campuses and around educators has shown me very few students know about our industry. If they do not know us, how could they consider us? But, my experience with the ELs and my 10 UTA hires has shown me that once we get them in, they are hooked and excited about being a part of our industry.
So, I look forward to working with you in this coming year as I continue to be a cheerleader for our industries. I will look for your opinions, your suggestions and your help. I believe that if we are to continue to grow and prosper as an industry, we will need to be in front of as many of our next-generation workers as possible.
We have amazing career opportunities for them. Let’s go and spread the news!
Thank you very much.
CEO and co-owner, Harris Packaging and American Carton Co.