Houston — Millennials may not be brand-new anymore, but plastics companies still need to keep the values of that generation in mind to attract younger talent.
In general, millennials are defined as those born between 1981 and 1996. Three plastics pros who fit that description took part in a panel on their age group at Global Plastics Summit 2019, held June 4-6 in Houston.
Jonathan Quinn was born into the plastics and packaging industry — both his father and grandfather had jobs in the field. Quinn is now market development manager for resin maker Nova Chemicals of Calgary, Alberta.
Mariah Brings and Apurva Shah took less direct routes to their plastics careers. Brings is a sales rep with resin distributor M. Holland Co. of Northbrook, Ill., while Shah is a market manager with film extruder Charter NEX Films Inc. of Milton, Wis.
"I didn't grow up thinking I'd end up in plastics," Brings said. "Then I met the M. Holland staff at a trade fair and after talking with them [I] saw some great opportunities."
Shah admitted that he "kind of stumbled" into plastics after starting his career in banking.
"I saw the recession firsthand while I was in banking," he said. "Then I joined Dow Chemical and fell in love with this industry."
According to Quinn, getting millennials engaged and interested in plastics remains a challenge.
"Millennials are now the largest population in the workforce," he said. "But we have to be willing as an industry to go outside and not post jobs that require 10 years of experience in plastics.
"Those people are hard to find and that leads to us stealing from each other," Quinn added. "If people have drive, we can teach them what they need to know."
Using a mentor program can help millennials grow into plastics jobs.
"Companies can cultivate younger employees and help them learn the industry and the basics of plastics," Brings said. "No one wants to start their first job and be thrown to the wolves.
"There's a stigma that our generation are job-hoppers, but we need the tools to be successful," she added. "At M. Holland, I asked to talk to someone at the company who was similar in age to me, and that helped."
Quinn added that a mentor "can introduce a new employee to an organization, but it should be someone close to their age and not someone who's going to retire in three weeks."
Inclusion and diversity in the workplace also are important to millennials.
"Diversity is more than physical characteristics; it's what makes us different," Brings said. "That's important in an industry which tends to be older. And it needs to start from the top of the organization.
"Without diversity, you're not going to have the growth you want in your organization," she added.
The image of plastics, which has grown increasingly negative in the last couple of years, is also something that millennials can struggle with.
"We need to talk about the progress that plastics are making instead of just showing data," Shah said. "It's become an emotionally charged issue."
"When you say you sell plastic, you get this 90-degree head tilt from friends and relatives," Brings added. "We need to help them see how plastics help a lot of people.
"That type of education is important, and we can use it to our advantage," she said. "The people who are excited about it are the ones you want in your organization."
The social purpose of plastics can also be an asset, according to Shah.
"When people learn about the technology, they can gain an appreciation of the industry," he said.