Over the next four years, roughly half of U.S. businesses will lose 10 percent to 20 percent of their workforce due to retirement, according to a June 2016 report by the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). That same report also predicts that by 2022, more than 25 percent of the U.S. workforce will be 55 years of age or older, up from 14 percent in 2002.
These statistics indicate events like FTA member OMET Americas, Inc.’s new Printing Technology and Innovation Days—the goal of which was to increase the growth of our industry’s future workforce and technology—could be more important than ever. The first of several events which, collectively, will fall under the banner of the Future of Flexo Initiative—founded by OMET Americas, Inc. and a consortium of flexographic printers and suppliers—the first annual Printing Technology and Innovation Days event took place in October last year, when the company opened the doors to its demonstration facility in Elk Grove Village, IL to Department of Technology students majoring in graphic communications from Illinois State University. The day included live demonstrations, a lunch ‘n’ learn and a breakout panel with industry experts.
The purpose of the event, according to OMET Americas, Inc. Sales Director Claudio Semenza, was “to ensure students have access to opportunities to gain a firsthand understanding of the industry and network with market leaders, as well as gain exposure to the technologies and skills employees use in the flexographic field.” He added that the Future of Flexo Initiative “is a testament to the commitment of OMET Americas, Inc. and industry supply chain members to make a real impact on the lives of students.”
An important programmatic element of the Printing Technology and Innovation Days model included the development of pathways to careers at both converter operations and businesses across the flexographic supply chain. Guest speakers included:
- Tony Parsons of Nazdar Ink Technologies, who talked about low-migration inks—specifically, as they relate to energy-curable flexographic inks and Nestlé compliance
- Steve Molinets of tesa tape, North America, who discussed tape’s role in the print process and its importance in the overall quality of the finished product, how tape can affect the consistency and repeatability of the printed image, and how important that is to brand owners
- Randy Davidson of Praxair Surface Technologies, who presented an overview of the anilox roll manufacturing and ink metering processes with an emphasis on roll-to-roll consistency to achieve excellent print quality
- Jennifer Heathcote of Phoseon Technology, who spoke on LED-integrated solutions for flexo narrow web
Significant interactions outside of the classroom are critical to professional development, said Adam Burke, instructional assistant professor for graphic communications at Illinois State University. He explained that opportunities like this teach students how their areas of specialization can reach an organizational goal, and how workplace efforts affect stakeholders.
Some students who attended OMET’s Printing Technology and Innovation Days were asked by FLEXO Magazine: “From your viewpoint as students, how do you perceive the packaging printing industry?”
“Companies are always looking for ways to improve their packaging to get the attention of consumers. I think there will always be a need for students like us to continue studying and learning the new and innovative technologies of the package printing industry.” – Kayla Mattson
“The packaging industry is continually growing. As a student, I have only seen a small glimpse of it, but I think the education Illinois State provides is giving its students a good idea of the scope of the industry. I love that they give us the opportunity to work with the machines and get hands-on experience.” – Amanda Rapp
“I view the packing industry as kind of a secret club, and here is why: No one really thinks about how a package is put together. No one fully understands what is possible unless you are within the industry. It takes an entire group of people to make sure that products’ packaging is perfect and usable.” – Christine Gesell
“Another benefit is networking with industry professionals,” said Adam. “If students take the interaction seriously and ask meaningful questions, they can begin to better understand where they would like to focus their careers.”
Students may also find areas of opportunity for potential employment, Adam added. Kayla Mattson, a senior graphics communications major with a concentration in cross media and packaging technology, agreed the event was helpful for networking, as she will soon be embarking on a job hunt after graduation.
“It was nice to hear from people in the industry about what they do and how they got to where they are today,” said Kayla. “Claudio was very knowledgeable and provided us with a great explanation of certain parts and processes of the flexo pressrun.”
Students also enjoyed the press demonstration. “It showed us the potential in the packaging industry, and the future of presses,” said Amanda Rapp, a graphics communications major.
Claudio believes the initiative can be a model for how OEMs work with their communities, universities and technical colleges, to not only train, educate and inform, but to deliver the range of services and support needed to grow tomorrow’s workforce. “It also proves the high value attached to programs designed to identify and grow a pool of qualified students for future work placements, and that is never a bad thing,” remarked Claudio, who hopes to expand to other schools and more print programs.
Steve added it’s important to get the younger generation involved in the industry as early as possible. “We have a shortage of qualified individuals to run presses at the moment. There is a world of difference between an operator who understands the process and how he/she can affect the end product, and someone who is hired to simply press buttons and occupy a space,” he said. “The better the understanding of the whole process, from design to print, the better they will be able to integrate into the world of print at whatever level they choose.”