One of the plastics industry's biggest challenges is not volatile resin prices or competition from China. It's skilled labor. It's a dearth of young people who find it interesting, challenging, rewarding and desirable to pursue a career in manufacturing.
Toolmaking used to be a craft handed down from father to son. In a few cases, that's still true — but far less frequently than before. Working for or managing a company that molds or extrudes something can be extremely worthwhile, and also can make an important contribution to your local and even national economy. But, frankly, it's not very sexy. Not like working at a dot-com or for a high-flying financial firm.
Perhaps the recent implosion on Wall Street might take some of the luster off the prospect of working there — though the bonuses, even at bankrupt companies, often leave the take-home pay from the factory floor in the dust. But when working at a plastics manufacturing company, you are making something tangible. You can craft a useful product in which you can take pride in the quality and finish.
The fact is that viable — even exciting — career opportunities continue to exist in plastics, despite a widespread impression that the United States has outsourced all of its production to lower-cost countries such as India, China, Mexico, Vietnam and the Czech Republic.
So allow me to tip my hat to the Pennsylvania College of Technology and WVIA-TV, a public television station that serves the north-central and northeastern portions of the Keystone State. Some of you may recall a June 8 story we published — just prior to the NPE2009 show in Chicago — that mentioned a project to produce a video documentary for WVIA. We also shot our own video about the project at NPE — to view it go to the “Focus on NPE” playlist at www.plasticsnews.com/video.
The plan was to feature plastics in an upcoming episode of an award-winning series called Degrees That Work. The program is done and available for viewing.
Video production developer Tom Speicher worked on the project with Chris Leigh, a video production coordinator at Penn College. The two shared shooting, editing and producing duties, and Speicher narrated the film. That led them to Chicago's McCormick Place during NPE to shoot more than a half-dozen interviews (including, in the interest of full disclosure, with yours truly) for use in the resulting half-hour segment. Other industry officials interviewed include Bill Carteaux, president and CEO of the Society of the Plastics Industry Inc.; Dana Gier, Julie McKenna and Erica Ocampa, all of Dow Chemical Co.; Dennis Gros of Gros Executive Recruiters; Greg Koski of Plastics.com; and Tim Womer of Xaloy Inc.
The mission: To build awareness, especially among high school students, of the varied types of rewarding career opportunities available within the plastics industry. The documentary follows a group of Loyalsock Township High School students, who are enrolled in a technical education class, as they design and create the plastic body for a remote-controlled car to be raced against other high schools at an annual Plastics Experience event at Penn College.
The show's producers also visited the Hatfield, Pa., plant of injection molder K'Nex Brands, which last year sold 7 million of its popular children's toy building sets, and interviewed K'Nex President and CEO Michael Araten. And the episode also directly addresses the growing “green” movement in the plastics industry, to include the development of biopolymers.
The program made its on-air debut on Feb. 1. Speicher said the series also airs on other public television stations and is available online at www.degreesthat work.com. The producers urge educators to download the episode for classroom use (as well as previous episodes about nanotechnology, welding and advanced manufacturing).
The final product is very polished and professional. It tells a compelling yet balanced story about the opportunities that await those interested in a career in plastics. Penn College of Technology has done the hard work on this. All you have to do now is help spread the word.
Grace is associated publisher and editor of Plastics News.