The gulf is too wide between the plastics industry and universities that teach tomorrow's plastics professionals, according to Robert Malloy, who heads one of the top programs - the Plastics Engineering Department at the University of Massachusetts at Lowell.
Trying to bridge that gap, Malloy gave an overview of polymer-related programs at UMass Lowell and other universities, at the Plastics News Executive Forum, held March 10-12 in Tampa.
Lowell normally places 100 percent of its graduates in jobs, with the medical-device industry hiring 20-30 percent of them, according to Malloy.
``There definitely is a demand for these people,'' he said. ``They can get in there and hit the ground running.''
UMass Lowell's plastics engineering graduates compete for jobs with traditional mechanical engineering graduates, who as students take very few chemistry courses. By the end of their sophomore year, plastics engineering students have taken eight chemistry classes, so they understand plastic materials.
``This is what separates our students from mechanical engineers - a strong materials focus,'' Malloy said.
He said UMass Lowell needs more guest speakers from plastics companies outside its New England niche and a wider range of internships. The university also would like to expand its reach, garnering students from a broader geographical area. Typically, most students who end up in plastics engineering are from Massachusetts. They start out at UMass Lowell in programs such as mechanical or chemical engineering, then find out about plastics and transfer. Malloy heavily recruits each prospective student.
He believes industry leaders can help promote plastics as a career choice.
``Kids think plastics are cheap. They think that manufacturing is leaving the United States, [that] there's no future here. And that's not true. I have 10 times more requests for jobs for our students, than students,'' he said. ``There's a need for these people. We need to get the perception out there that plastics is a career.''