Naples, Fla. — The Plastics News 2019 class of Rising Stars took different paths to the plastics market, but four members of the class agree that it's important to be open to new ideas.
Those four members took part in an industry panel at the 2020 Executive Forum, held Feb. 25-26 in Naples.
"Flexibility in the workplace and with work schedules is important," said Aaron Foss, senior product manager with resin distributor Nexeo Plastics in The Woodlands, Texas. "It's a key way to keep the young generation happy."
Robert Jones, an account manager with resin distributor Osterman & Co. in Cheshire, Conn., agreed.
"With a cellphone and laptop, you can work from anywhere," he said.
Younger plastics pros "grew up with the internet, so we're more comfortable with looking up info," said Patrick Krieger, regulatory and technical affairs director with the Plastics Industry Association. "But good luck learning how to operate a plastics plant on YouTube. You need to engage people who have done it their whole career."
Online learning and hands-on learning both have a place in the industry, according to Nicholas Rocheleau, an engineer with Rocheleau Blow Molding Systems in Fitchburg, Mass. "You can't really bash one and praise one," he said. "There are strengths to both."
Even at this early stage in their careers, the 2019 Rising Stars have seen value in cultivating talent.
"It starts with the individual," Rocheleau said. "They need to have ambition to grow themselves.
"It's like having a starting quarterback and a backup. There's going to be a big gap as the baby boomers continue to retire, so there needs to be training and mentoring of younger workers."
Krieger added that programs like Plastics Industry Association's Future Leaders in Plastics (FLIP) program can help younger workers navigate competition for jobs. Jones said that Osterman often relies on personal recommendations when looking for new employees.
"It can be easier to find people who are a good cultural fit that way, instead of only spending a couple of hours with someone in an interview," he added.
Foss cited his own experience to show that Nexeo "has done a good job at mentoring and taking risks."
"I led a group of older people at age 28," he said. "That risk paid off and helped me grow."
Sustainability is also a focus for younger workers, although Foss said that "consumer behavior hasn't changed yet."
"The more sustainable programs we can do, the better," Rocheleau said. Jones added that in the last 12-18 months, Osterman has heard from many more customers who are concerned about ocean waste and interested in biomaterials.
According to Krieger, it's important to find common ground with people who might have concerns about the impact of plastics.
"Plastics can be a solution to problems, not the problem itself," he said.