Like all trade associations these days, the Society of Plastics Engineers wants to attract young people. So SPE is planning some special events at the upcoming Antec in Las Vegas, including speed interviews and a scavenger hunt for clues on the Vegas Strip.
Antec, SPE's annual technical conference, runs April 28-30.
The scavenger hunt, billed as a Plastics Race on April 28, will offer some good prizes, according to Jaime Gomez, SPE's vice president of communications. As of late March, the society had raised about $15,000 for prizes. Officials are seeking more donations, he said.
Prizes will be given out at a celebration dinner, where SPE will show a PowerPoint presentation of all the clues.
“It's a different thing that nobody has done before” at an Antec, Gomez said.
SPE did try speed interviewing last year at Antec in Cincinnati. Gomez said it's important to do that at every Antec from now on, as a way of attracting young people — and companies that want to hire them — to SPE's biggest event of the year.
Students also will get a special tour of a Berry Plastics Corp. factory on April 30, followed by an awards luncheon and then speed interviews. SPE officials are encouraging companies to bring a technical person and a human resources person to the interview.
Antec typically already attracts about 200 to 300 students, from leading universities that offer degrees in plastics. Several schools have tables on the Antec show floor. Students participate in poster sessions, where they explain their work. Some give technical presentations.
But Gomez said SPE officials want to get more students, and “young professionals” (defined as people 34 years old and younger) to come to Antec and — even more importantly — to become SPE members.
A big problem for the society is that the students, who become SPE members during college at the urging of their professors, later fail to renew their membership once they graduate and get jobs.
“The minute they get out of school, they drop their membership,” he said.
Certainly, the scavenger hunt, tour and speed interviewing sound like a fun time. But it's serious business to attract young people, and getting them to join and remain members of SPE.
“We're getting older and older every day,” Gomez said, referring to SPE leadership. “If we don't have huge new blood, we're going to disappear.”
And Gomez said that in middle and high school, kids are shying away from math and science courses, mainly because they think it's not “fun” or “interesting enough.”
Gomez, the global business development manager for chemicals and plastics at Coperion K-Tron Pitman Inc., serves on the SPE's executive committee. He is the liaison to the Next Generation Advisory Board, which the society created in 2011 to attract young professionals to the industry. The group has put together a 10-year plan.
“The job of the NGAB is to advise us as to what we need to do to capture the voice of the young professionals and have them participate and join the association,” Gomez said in an interview.
In a letter to SPE members, Gomez said the can contribute money to SPE scholarships, send some of their young employees to Antec, and be involved in the speed interviews.
“By participating in the interview sessions, you will help us break the vicious circle that students don't attend Antec in mass because companies don't come to interview,” he said in the letter.
SPE did a survey of young professionals, asking their opinions of the society. Gomez said they considered SPE membership to be too expensive and not relevant. SPE needs to show how it adds value to these young people, plugged in as they are to social media, he said.
“The problem right now is the Internet and you can get anything you want about plastics by using Google,” he said.
“What do you get for that $140 membership? And that's what SPE's doing a lot of work right now, to help create, generate and highlight the value of belonging to SPE,” Gomez said.