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Eager to Innovate

By Amanda Rapp

July 24, 2019

I have had the pleasure of working in the packaging industry for just under a year now. My Bachelor of Science degree was completed in May 2018 through Illinois State University’s (ISU) graphic communications program. From there, I was immediately hired on with Quantum Ink Co., an ink manufacturer based out of Louisville, Ky. I am forever indebted to the graphic communications program at ISU for giving me a wealth of knowledge and experience before I even began my career. Programs such as these help to mold talent while job applications have yet to be submitted, and they are vital in keeping the industry relevant.

In my short time being a part of this industry, I have noticed a pretty significant talent shortage when it comes to the younger generation and students emerging from apprenticeships and universities. Baby boomers are beginning to retire, and there are very few people in a position to take their place. Knowing that the packaging industry will require a substantial amount of new talent in the next decade, this begs the questions: What are some ways to capture students’ attention within this industry? How can we help to create a culture that aims to cultivate young talent? Hopefully, I can shed a little bit of light on how organizations within the packaging industry can recruit students, having been a recent graduate and employee.

Connect With Local Community Colleges and Universities

First and foremost, linking up with universities in your region will help organizations promote their vision before the onboarding process even begins. This link could be in many forms, but scholarship donations, training opportunities, classroom lectures, job fairs, and project or competition donations are just a few. Efforts of this nature are so important in building a rapport and were a huge deciding factor for me in my accepting a job with Quantum Ink. The company helped ISU during the Phoenix Challenge Competition, organized through the Flexographic Technical Association. Had that not transpired, not only would I not have known what Quantum Ink is, but I wouldn’t have had an opportunity to see how dedicated they are to continuing education. A couple of other organizations in our region would give a presentation every semester to discuss their companies and cultures and to explain their job and internship opportunities. They had even gone so far as setting up interviews in the classroom post-presentation. This process not only benefits the students, but the hiring organizations as well. The companies are guaranteed a pool of qualified applicants readily searching for a job. I guarantee that if you invest in your local universities or institutions long-term, your organization will reap the benefits.

Create Internship Opportunities

My time with Quantum Ink began through a six-month internship during my last semester of college. I was able to noninvasively help their operation while they were acclimating me to their corporate structure before I even graduated. Genius! Internships are intended to create a mutualistic relationship. They help to train a new potential employee while simultaneously allowing an employer to evaluate how said employee would fare in the actual workplace.

Implement Certification Training

The overall manufacturing industry is so vast, and I think that so often, its scope can be missed in a classroom. This is where companies can come along and help to shape the way that the industry is viewed from the bottom up. This might even start as early as high school. Organizations can help schools implement certification training and testing. This will not only create a curriculum aid for high schools and universities, but it will also assure that the talent pool coming into the field will be adequately prepared. Without industry engagement early on, we will not be able to help students and incoming talent meet the changing technology requirements, leaving companies to hire people who are unqualified and underprepared.

Build and Register an Apprenticeship Program

A common theme I have noticed throughout the printing and packaging industry since I have begun my career is the evident lack of press operators. Companies are hungry for them, and the turnover in those types of positions are incredibly high. Facilities, everywhere I go, express a significant lack of applicants.

Four-year universities are not necessarily grooming their students to be press operators, so something to consider as an alternative would be an extended apprenticeship program. Apprenticeships are set up by the U.S. Department of Labor. Companies looking to hire skilled workers can register their apprenticeship program, and the government will issue a nationally recognized certificate. These programs would require the company to invest their time, money, and resources, but I firmly believe that the apprenticeships will pay for themselves with qualified, dedicated employees. What is the younger generation looking for in an apprenticeship? While I was never a part of one, I can say for sure that they are looking for employers that highlight the high-tech skills associated with operating positions, as well as flexibility and advancement opportunities. We should also work as an industry to create more viable apprenticeships and to make it common knowledge that these programs exist for those who don’t want to—or can’t—pay the money for a four-year degree.

Reevaluate Your Job Posting

What are students looking for when applying for a job? While I can’t speak for all students, I know what was important to me, and my life, post-graduation. While salary will always play a crucial role, work culture is ultimately going to be the determining factor. This means career advancement, innovation, collaborative opportunities, specific deliverables, social opportunities, etc. Consider highlighting potential advancement opportunities or presenting a career road map—the more opportunities for growth you can outline, the easier it becomes to recruit new hires. These seemingly minor offerings will be essential for the generations to come. I am a firm believer that a positive and dedicated work culture will always lend itself to employees who want to go above and beyond.

Capitalize on the Millennial Mindset

After being asked to write this article, I have had a chance to reflect on the packaging industry as a whole. I feel that upper management has a responsibility to view incoming employees as an advantage, not a hindrance. Part of the reason that I have been so thankful for my position within Quantum Ink is the fact that, despite my age, they put so much trust in me early on. Instead of talking down a lack of experience, they mentored me.

The students on the verge of graduation grew up in the age of rapidly advancing technology. They have the ability to transform the way that the industry is marketed—hence, an ability to increase interest in the packaging industry, if leveraged. The millennial generation (myself included) may be young, but they are full of innovative ideas, and they are more than willing to learn. Use them to your advantage.

width=150Amanda Rapp is a sales representative for Quantum Ink Co. She can be reached at 815-543-8858 or