Jonathan Brewer, the regional sales manager for the Central Region at Anderson & Vreeland Inc, had a unique path to the flexographic industry.
He started his professional career as an Army officer and spent just shy of 10 years in the military. Brewer then decided to pursue a career in business and was introduced to Anderson & Vreeland in 2018. He began his career as an account manager in the Upper Midwest. In August 2020, he was promoted to lead the Central Region.
Here, the FTA Emerging Leaders Committee member talks to FLEXO Magazine about his job, being a part of a younger generation in the industry and his advice for other young flexographers.
FLEXO Magazine: What does your job title actually mean? What’s a typical work day look like?
Jonathan Brewer: I am directly responsible for everything my region does or fails to do. I lead six people and do my best to remove barriers in order for them to solve problems for our customers. A typical day is communicating our priorities, improving processes, and solving problems internal and external to our organization.
FLEXO: What’s something that has surprised you—good or bad—about working in the flexographic industry?
Brewer: Learning flexography was really overwhelming. I remember waking up at 5 a.m. to learn about our products and processes that allow a customer to achieve color and print with great results. All the knowledge came relatively quickly, which surprised me. The cool part is that you never stop learning and there is always something to improve upon. I doubt I’ll ever know it all, but I won’t stop trying!
FLEXO: One of the biggest takeaways from the FTA Generational Study was a large majority of students studying package printing—83 percent—felt completely unprepared for a job. How did you feel when you started at your first job?
Brewer: I would venture to say these results are not isolated or only found in the flexographic industry. I remember when I felt unprepared to lead soldiers. In most institutions, the goal is getting an individual submersed in a particular field and establishing a baseline of knowledge. The rest is learned through experience and trial and error. I experienced this when I first started with Anderson & Vreeland, I felt like I was out calling on customers with a firm handshake and a business card. However, the training and experience came quickly and it was all worth it.
FLEXO: What do you think is the biggest misconception about young people in this industry?
Brewer: I don’t see one. You hear smatterings about millennials and other things like that, same as you hear in society and public settings. It’s normal. For our industry to thrive, we all need a healthy pipeline of youth coming into our organizations to learn from the other veterans that have been around for a long time. That continuity is extremely important. Workforce development is a large concern for all organizations in manufacturing and we all have a role to play in closing this gap. I tell people to lead with humility and don’t be afraid to get your hands dirty. It’s all part of the process.
FLEXO: 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?
Brewer: Success in life rests on the ability to effectively deal with people. I haven’t seen this much; that doesn’t mean it isn’t there. I have noticed that industry veterans are extremely willing to share knowledge, as it can lead to great things.
FLEXO: What can human resources managers and company executives do better to attract young talent to their organizations?
Brewer: It’s important to recognize attitude, passion and a willingness to learn in the pool of candidates that you are hiring. The experience requirement is becoming very futile and hard to fill. Experience is important, but I would also encourage employers to look at applicants that may not exactly qualify for the role you are looking to fill. People will never cease to amaze you with their creativity and passion. There is high probability that if you hire for attitude and passion, then someone may have the talent and ability to grow into a role rather quickly.
FLEXO: Why is it important for young people to stay connected to peers of a similar age through groups like the FTA Emerging Leaders Committee?
Brewer: We can gain connections and network with people in the same stage of life. It never hurts to have a group of colleagues and friends where you can bounce ideas off and share successes and failures. There is some real power in that. It’s important to network and build relationships in general.
FLEXO: Any advice or words of wisdom for any young flexographers reading, or students studying flexography and package printing?
Brewer: Take the plunge! There is never a right time to start or do anything. If you wait until you feel ready, you may miss the opportunity. This holds true in life: Set attainable goals with realistic timelines. This industry is waiting for people just like you and we welcome you with open arms.
FLEXO: When someone who is not a flexographer asks you about the industry, how do you describe it?
Brewer: I keep it simple. I tell family and friends who are unfamiliar that I work in the label and flexible packaging printing space. I usually point out things that are in sight, to share a cool story about how a label is printed.