Packaging Professionals of the Future
It is the vanity of every generation to think their era is in some way special and that they face the greatest challenges.
However there are a number of outside influences bearing down on the industry which mean that today’s and, perhaps more importantly, tomorrow’s packaging professionals need a different outlook and broader skills.
Environmental issues are perhaps the most talked about at present with constant calls for packaging reduction. However there are also pressures for more convenience and the elimination of spoilage and damage to goods; potentially conflicting requirements.
High oil prices are pushing up energy costs and impacting on material costs. Twin pronged competitive pressures from overcapacity in some sectors and low cost competition in emerging economies are taking their toll.
Technology is transforming production in many areas particularly printed packaging; smaller run lengths are becoming viable and many traditional roles are being deskilled or eliminated. For example many roles which were individual skills such as graphics, typesetting, imposition, plate making etc are now all done by Mac operators; even the printing in some circumstances.
There used to be a fairly clear difference in focus between packaging professionals in the supply and end user sides of the industry. Manufacturers were very focused on technology and materials; whilst end users focused more on branding and user experience.
The onslaught from these external factors means packaging professionals can no longer maintain a silo mentality.
Manufacturers and users of packaging need to co-operate to utilise material and technology to deliver better, differentiated, packaging. It is this differentiation which will deliver better margins for manufacturers and end users alike.
What does this mean in practice? Who will be the sought after packaging professionals of the future?
Rather than viewing the packaging supply chain from one end or the other the most valued packaging professionals will have an end to end perspective; irrespective of where in the chain they are. Core packaging technology knowledge will be enhanced with broader skills and knowledge.
Key Knowledge and Skills will be:
• Technical understanding of materials and processes
o Manufacturing capabilities, existing and state of the art
o Material properties
o Insight into possibilities, i.e. development potential / innovation
o Quality systems and world class performance
• Supply chain knowledge
o Economic factors
o Supply chain risk
• Market Knowledge
o Consumer requirements
o Socio-economic trends
o Environment issues
o Opportunities for differentiation
o Competitor activity
In our experience the key resources for developing these skills and knowledge are customers and suppliers. Spending time with and asking questions of both your suppliers and customers is crucial to developing this knowledge base. This can be supported with formal study but at the very least monitoring these factors in the trade and national media is essential.
Of course no one person is going to know everything so building strong relationships, throughout the supply chain and within your professional body, is essential. There is no single magic formula for career development but there is no doubt that individuals with a broad knowledge base and the ability to see and act on opportunities will always be sought after.