FTA Emerging Leaders Committee Member Thomas Koester Talks Experiences as a Young Flexographer, Career Path, Advice for Millennials

FTA: You interned at Printpack and DuPont Cyrel. How did your internships prepare you for your career? How does being an intern differ from being in a classroom?

Koester: As a customer service representative (CSR) intern for Printpack in Vinings, GA, I helped CSRs complete their billing, sent proofs to different plants, and helped manage print jobs being transferred between plants. My Printpack internship was my first real exposure to the industry, and I got to experience how a prepress department operates and tour the Printpack Villa Rica site. I knew from this internship that I either wanted to get more involved in design or dive deeper into the technical side of flexography.

As a DuPont Cyrel technical service intern in Wilmington, DE, I made and sent sample plates and various test plates to salesmen and customers to trial, then helped to compile print data from these various trials. I also was involved in different internal research projects, working alongside research and design personnel and others on the Technical Service Team. I really enjoyed the internship and actually completed two rotations at DuPont Cyrel. It helped me realize I wanted to start a career in technical support with a mix of R&D. My internship at DuPont also helped me build a strong foundational knowledge in photopolymer plates and plate making, which I can now bring to my team at APR.

Internships are, in my opinion, the most important part of the Clemson Graphic Communications program. They give real-world work experience and connections before students enter the workforce. My internships helped me to narrow down what I wanted in a career. At the end of each internship, I thought critically about my likes and dislikes of the internship, and if I could see myself in a similar role for years to come. After completing my internships, I found that I enjoyed the very technical side of the flexo industry and all its intricacies, and I then knew what I wanted in a career.

Internships are different from employment because they generally are 9-to-5, meaning no homework or late-night studying. Most internships give students the opportunity to move somewhere new temporarily, which is a valuable life experience. They are performance-based rather than grade-based, and most of the time offer compensation. As intern, your work is actually valuable to the company rather than just valuable to a grade point average (not to devalue GPAs). The Clemson internship program for Graphic Communications is smart, in that the program counts as a single credit hour and students are graded by their internship supervisors.

“This industry is incredibly supportive and generous to students, and you will find that most people are more than willing to support you in any capacity they can or point you in the right direction.”

FTA: You received the 2017 FFTA Rossini North America Flexographic Research Scholarship. How did that experience prepare you for your career? Any advice for other students working toward this or another FFTA scholarship?

Koester: The Rossini Scholarship was great for my career because it was the first big research project and paper that I completed, and now in my new job as a TEAMflexo Technical Solutions Group trainee, I have already become involved in a number of research projects and white papers. The scholarship also helped me to get some degree of visibility in the industry through the FIQ session that I spoke in, and to make connections with those who were interested in variable repeat printing, the subject of my research.

To any students interested in the Rossini Scholarship or any other FFTA scholarship, I recommend you find something in the industry you are curious or passionate about and find a way to fit it into scholarship research. If you cannot find anything you are curious or passionate about to research, talk to industry members and your professors to learn more about what research might be valuable to the industry. Then find the right people, whether they are industry members or professors, to help guide you along the way. This industry is incredibly supportive and generous to students, and you will find that most people are more than willing to support you in any capacity they can or point you in the right direction.

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

Koester: To attract young talent, human resources managers and company executives can better market their company culture and possibilities for advancement. A good company culture and opportunities for advancement show that a company cares about their employees’ happiness and the environment in which they work.

Another good way to attract young talent would be to better market the positions being offered and what each position entails. When I was a student, a group of alumni came through our class and shared what they do every day. Students were able to ask them any questions they might have about their job or the industry. I think opportunities like these are very important to help students realize what jobs like account manager, product manager, customer service representative, sales support and sales really entail. This is part of the goal of the Emerging Leaders Committee: to help educate young talent about what our industry has to offer.

I think human resource managers and company executives can also try to better market their location. For a lot of young people, I think location has become a bigger factor in their job decisions than most employers realize.

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?

Koester: Groups like the Emerging Leaders Committee are important because they give young people a network to compare notes and to learn from. Going to industry events, it is pretty clear there are not nearly as many young people in our industry as there are veterans. It is important for young people to recognize they are not alone and that there are others who they may better relate to through groups like the Emerging Leaders Committee. It’s also a valuable resource for employers to find information about the younger workforce and for younger generations to have more of a consolidated voice in the industry.

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

Koester: Use your internships to decide what you want in a career. Utilize any and all resources your school and industry organizations like FTA have to offer. Getting involved with different projects, scholarships, research or entities like the Sonoco Institute can really help you differentiate yourself.

The best piece of advice I received—less than a month into my job—was from a workforce veteran: “Never stop learning, because the moment you do, you are no longer valuable in the industry.”

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.