For Emerging Leaders Committee member Ashley Cash, a career in flexography started with a tip from a teacher.
“My high school biology teacher encouraged me to combine my creative abilities with science,” Cash says. “She recommended I explore the possibilities of a career in the packaging industry.”
Now, as a technical sales representative and business development specialist at All Printing Resources Inc (APR), Cash partners with flexographic printers to provide printing consumables, equipment and training needs. She also helps to grow sales for APR within the South East region of the US, as well as maintain existing accounts.
Here, Cash gives more details about her career path, what it’s like for Millennials to work in flexography, and how companies can attract younger talent.
FTA: Talk about your career path and how you arrived at APR.
Cash: The world of packaging has fascinated me since I was a senior in high school. I love the idea of enabling practical, useful items to promote an emotional user experience. I began my printing and packing journey at Clemson University in the Graphic Communications Department.
My passion for print was able to flourish during my first job at Esko. As an application engineer there, I gained a lot of prepress knowledge to help guide a prepress department to develop minimal error, time-friendly automated workflows both within the department and beyond. Many of my peers encouraged me to not only utilize my print knowledge but also my passion for people and networking.
I soon found my belonging working for Dave Nieman and the All Printing Resources family as a technical sales representative, business development specialist. I can honestly say that this sales role is bringing me great joy. I am able to make meaningful connections with customers and assist them with solving their challenges. I see myself partnering with flexographic printers and helping them succeed and grow for years to come.
FTA: How did your internships prepare you for your career? How does being an intern differ from being in a classroom?
Cash: Internships are the first real-world experiences that bring curriculum from the classroom to life. I was not able to put the entire workflow of the printing industry together until I completed my internships. They were vital stepping stones to becoming a valuable first hire. Internships also help students learn which types of positions they want to pursue after graduation.
FTA: The FTA Generational Study found that Millennials in package printing primarily work at distributors (43 percent) while only 9 percent of workers over 35 work at distributors. Do you think there’s a reason more Millennials are attracted to distributors like APR? What do you like about working there?
Cash: Distributors take pride in being a valuable resource of knowledge that help to lead innovation and new technology within the industry. They invest heavily in the continued education of their employees because they recognize that the knowledge of their employees is one of the most important investments they can make within the company. The majority of Millennials are college graduates who are looking for careers that will enable them to continue to grow their abilities and skills. It is important to us to know that a company will invest in us as much as we invest in it. Work/life balance is a huge consideration for Millennials as well. Many career paths within a distributor offer flexible work environments as well as the option to work remote.
APR is providing me with outstanding opportunities to grow my knowledge and skills. The company’s leadership expects all employees to hold themselves to the standard of continued education and excellence. My role within APR allows me to build meaningful, insightful relationships with our customers as well as our industry partners. I value the family atmosphere as well as the genuine care the leadership has for their employees above all else.
FTA: The Study also found 83 percent of students studying package printing felt completely unprepared for a job. How did you feel when you started at your first job?
Cash: There are so many different types of career paths within the packaging industry. It’s almost impossible to be 100 percent prepared for the job you decide to accept. The best education is on-the-job experience. My first job position was somewhat out of my comfort zone. I understood the printing-related topics, but I had to learn a lot about IT and computer-related work to navigate my job well. I never took a computer science course in school. Needless to say, I needed to learn a lot, and fast. The primary role of college is to provide a base knowledge to build on. Employers know this. They consider an individual’s character, personality and ambition in order to determine if they can grow into what that role needs.
FTA: What do you like about working in the flexographic industry? What’s something that has surprised you—good or bad—about working in it?
Cash: I absolutely love the community within the industry. There are many experienced leaders who are willing to step up and provide guidance and mentorship. I consider many of my industry peers to be some of my best friends.
FTA: What do you think is the biggest misconception about young people in this industry?
Cash: I am often mistaken to be older than a Millennial. This allows me to hear firsthand some of the common misconceptions about us. Our casual approach to daily tasks is often mistaken as complacent. We realize that the majority of our time will be spent on the job and with coworkers. We want to make the most of it and create a fun, open environment that promotes creative, positive thinking.
A breakdown in communication often creates misconceptions. Millennials learned how to communicate differently than our older generations. Instant messengers, social media and cellphones molded our communication skills as well as cultural habits. This difference alone creates a gap that is hard to bridge.
FTA: Much is made of the age gap in the workforce, and the friction between younger and more veteran workers. Is there any truth to that?
Cash: There is a time period where both age groups have to learn each other’s communication styles and work habits. The referenced tension may occur when someone is not willing to be open minded and understanding of differences. We have to learn to support each other in ways that benefit the team, and that takes time.
FTA: What can human resources managers and company executives do better to attract young talent to their organizations?
Cash: I have mentioned two alluring perks that Millennials value in a work place: a flexible work environment and a company that invests in their growth. Millennials also take note of the state of the facility they will be required to work in. Comfortable seating, clean workspaces and fresh paint can go a long way with us—You can blame Pinterest and HGTV for this. In all seriousness, the desire for an attractive work environment is based on the fact that we recognize how much time we will be spending in that environment.
FTA: Why is it important for young people to stay connected to peers of a similar age through groups like the FTA Emerging Leaders Committee?
Cash: It is very encouraging to look around at FTA events and see peers your own age. It gives us a sense of ownership in the industry. We encourage each other and form friendly competitions.
FTA: Any advice or words of wisdom for any young flexographers reading, or students studying flexography and package printing?
Cash: Be confident in the abilities and skills you bring to your team. However, make it known that you are eager for advice and guidance. Some of the smartest people in the room ask the most questions.
The FTA Emerging Leaders Committee brings together young flexographers to participate in problem-solving work groups, tackle unique projects on an as-needed basis, network with peers, gain an inside look into FTA structure, and have an opportunity to serve the profession in a leadership capacity in the near future. To join, contact FTA Director of Content & Digital Strategy Brad Pareso.