FTA Emerging Leaders Committee Member Tessa Libby on Accumulating Experience as a Millennial in Flexography

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?

Libby: My favorite part about working for a distributor (APR in particular) is that I get to have my hands in a lot of areas. I like that I don’t focus 100 percent of my time on stickyback, or on doctor blades, or on photopolymer plates, etc. I get to split my time and brain power between a variety of products and solutions and that’s what keeps my job interesting. More millennials might be drawn to distributors because it allows them to be knowledgeable about a variety of items rather than an expert on just one thing.

“Printing has been an exciting industry to work in—never a dull moment; always something new to learn.”

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?

Libby: Looking back, I really do think I was well prepared to work at a narrow web label printer—but a lot of that preparedness did not only come from my classes/schooling but also came from my experience with FTA, the Rossini Scholarship and the Phoenix Challenge. There is a true difference between what you learn from books about printing and what actually goes down in a print facility; ideal vs. reality. I think my non-schooling experiences with printing in college more so prepared me for reality in the industry. Honestly, if my first job out of college would have been at APR, I would have felt more unprepared; I think I learned so much at my first job that really prepared me to work here. But that being said, so much of my schooling and previous experience had been based in the narrow web world that I am now finding myself learning new things all the time about the wide web and corrugated industries. It’s a continual learning process.

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?

Libby: A lot of veterans in the industry often discredit younger people because we do not have the decades of hands-on experience they do. I am proud that at 30 years old, I have four years of studying printing and eight years of working in printing under my belt. When I explain that to anyone who seems to be hesitant of my abilities, I usually get a nod of respect in return. The younger generations entering the printing industry are learning the trade from different angles than previous generations (often starting with schooling) and this has the power to shift the industry’s perception.

FTA: What can human resources managers and company executives do better to attract young talent to their organizations?

When I started with APR in 2014 at age 25, there were only two other “youngsters” on the team. Now there are at least eight people under 35 (I hope I am right about that and I don’t offend anyone!). I think young talent attracts young talent. Starting with one will bring more. It’s probably the hardest to attract your first younger employee.

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?

Libby: I have become great friends with my peers at APR that are in my same age group and it has been great to have friends to relate to in the printing industry. Sometimes it can be hard to talk about work with people not in the industry because they don’t know what I mean when I talk about something like plate exposure or end seal leaking. But I realize not everyone works for a company with such a strong younger presence in their pool of coworkers—That is why groups like the ELC are so important.

FTA: When someone who is not a flexographer asks you about the industry, how do you describe it?

Libby: I tell them that I am in sales and I sell products to companies that print packaging (items on a grocery store shelf, for example). The usual response is “oh, so like The Office?” To which I reply, ”Yes, I am basically Michael Scott.”

FTA: Do you think there are things we can do to attract more people to the flexographic and package printing industries?

Libby: Although starting in flexo through college programs like Cal Poly and Clemson (just to name two) can be powerful, it isn’t for everyone. There are a lot of young minds who would be a great addition to the printing and packaging industry who may not enter it through college. That is why it seems like recruiting at both the high school and college level could be more effective.

FTA: Any advice or words of wisdom for any young flexographers reading, or students studying flexography and package printing?

Libby: A piece of advice I was given in college that still rings true is that package printing is a smart industry to go into because packaging will never go away. Printing techniques and methods and styles may change and transform, but packaging itself can never and will never go away—we will always be finding ways to decorate trash.

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.