When I was a kid growing up, a career in plastics was to me about as likely as me becoming President of the United States. The difference between the two options was that one wasn’t even on my radar (a plastics career) and the other just seemed unattainable. And I was a young man growing up in a household where my father was pretty well-known in injection molding – both for his closed-loop control business and the seminar business which eventually became Paulson Training Programs.
While there are more plastics academic programs available now than 35 years ago, there still aren’t enough. How can we correct this? One solution being proposed (summarized in an article on the Plastics News website) is by creating closer ties between industry and academia.
The plastics industry needs the workers. No question about that. But to solve this problem long-term we must get more high school and college kids interested in a plastics industry career.
One quick example close to home is my son’s high school. He goes to a high school that has “Science & Engineering” in its name. Ninety plus percent of the graduates this year are moving on to college to pursue engineering degrees. Do they have any sort of plastics classes offered at this “Science and Engineering” high school? No. Nothing. It is going to be hard to get kids interested in a plastics career path when almost none of them are even aware of it.
Now imagine this same situation except the high school had a few classes on injection molding, extrusion, blow molding and thermoforming. Imagine they had a nice plastics lab with equipment donated by industry. Would that open at least some of the students eyes to the possibility of a plastics career. It would hard to imagine it not.
To make this a reality, industry needs to do its part. Companies should visit high schools and present “the plastics option”. They should offer to donate equipment and materials. They should offer summer internships. And maybe they should offer jobs upon graduation, or at least some tuition assistance in return for a job after the student graduates from college.
In the Plastics News article cited above, Bekum America is offering an plastics apprenticeship program based on the very successful German industry model. No reason something similar can’t work in the U.S.
The skilled labor shortage is not going to be solved without something changing. Here at Paulson, we assist many colleges and universities with their plastics programs. But it is the manufacturers that are being hurt the most by not being able to find the skilled employees they need. Closer ties with schools at all levels to either help set up plastics programs or enhance programs through apprenticeships or summer internships would be a big step in the right direction.