This year was the first NPE for Jennifer Snodgrass, the president and co-founder of Advocates for Plastics Careers. Her main objective at the show was to be available to talk with others who want to join her effort to promote plastics careers and education.
"We want to collect their stories and also find like-minded people willing to support our organization with their time, talents and financial resources," she said in an interview before NPE.
Q: What's your background, and how did you get into plastics?
Snodgrass: My educational background is in psychology and business. For the past 30 years or so, I have been active in nonprofits that benefit youth and education.
In 2014, I was assisting Patrick Smith of Jade Molds in finding ways to support plastics education and students in the United States. I was totally new to the plastics industry, but excited to be involved with a project to help young people.
It was during conversations with Jonathan Meckley (Penn State) and Adam Kramschuster (University of Wisconsin-Stout) that I first learned about the skills gap in the plastics industry. I was blown away by what they told me about the vast shortage of skilled professionals in the field and the great demand that existed among employers.
I was fortunate to connect with Lynzie Nebel, a young plastics engineer from Penn State who has a passion for the industry and for recruiting and supporting women in the field. With the financial support of Patrick Smith, we formed an organization and created a website that reflected our mission for promoting the industry.
Q: What's your elevator pitch for Advocates?
Snodgrass: Advocates for Plastics Careers ("Advocates" or MoldingTheFuture.org) was created to promote workforce development for the plastics industry by:
1. Bringing plastics career opportunities to the attention of young people, parents, educators, school counselors, military transition offices — and the community in general.
2. Providing a central clearinghouse for information about plastics careers and education.
3. Creating an online forum for industry professionals and educators to share ideas and solutions to help close the skills gap in plastics.
Q: What has the organization accomplished in the past year?
Snodgrass: We were awarded a grant from the Society of Plastics Engineers Foundation to update and build out our website. We are so grateful to have their support. Eve Vitale, foundation director, has been a valuable resource and a great friend to us and our organization. Our first project is an interactive map of the plastics education programs in the United States, which is looking terrific so far. We look forward to being a partner and a resource for SPE, the Plastics Industry Association and all of the other organizations that support the industry.
We have also been able to meet with numerous industry professionals and trade groups who share our passion for the industry and for helping young people and the community. We have had the pleasure of sharing our story and organization with several journalists and have had wonderful write-ups in major plastics publications. We are new and small, but people are starting to hear about us.
Q: What are your goals, both short- and long-term?
Snodgrass: Short term, we would like to complete our website project. In addition to our map of schools and training programs, we are collecting and uploading stories to the site — personal stories about how people got into the industry, stories about how companies are reaching out to their communities to raise awareness about plastics careers, and stories about how education is being developed or expanded to help workforce development in plastics.
Our long-term mission is to increase the number of qualified skilled professionals entering the plastics field. We believe this will result in satisfying, well-paying careers, financially healthy families, stable communities, a thriving innovative plastics industry, a more robust manufacturing sector and a stronger U.S. economy.
Q: When you talk to people about Advocates for Plastics Careers, what's the reaction?
Snodgrass: People in the industry are intrigued and quite supportive. We find that individuals, companies and other industry organizations are all doing their part to help promote the industry — and they share our enthusiasm. They appreciate that we want to showcase their efforts so that others can emulate them.
People outside the industry have literally never heard about the skills gap that plastics is experiencing. Even high school educators and counselors with extensive experience and expertise have no clue about plastics as a career path or plastics/manufacturing education programs. Their reaction alone has convinced me how much the United States needs Advocates for Plastics Careers.
Q: Who are you trying to reach?
Snodgrass: At NPE, we are trying to reach anyone who shares our mission — to hear their ideas and advice, to learn their stories, and to recruit more hands-on and financial support.