• Critical thinking needed: (l-r) Dr Rym Kachouri, Nerida Kelton, Liza Vernall, Lindy Hughson
    Critical thinking needed: (l-r) Dr Rym Kachouri, Nerida Kelton, Liza Vernall, Lindy Hughson
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The ability to attract bright young people and develop their critical thinking emerged as the key themes at the PKN + Food & Drink Business Women in Packaging breakfast panel, held at the AIP Technical Forum.

Hosted by PKN Packaging News editor Lindy Hughson, the panel comprised three leading lights in the packaging world, all committed to the development of the industry.

Discussing the issue were Liza Vernalls, director of packaging at Campbell Arnott's; Nerida Kelton, executive director of the AIP; and Dr Rym Kachouri, APPMA board member and general manager for service and agency products at automation and robotics specialist Foodmach.

Engaging with young people and providing appealing pathways to their entry is central to the growth strategy of every industry, and packaging is no exception. However, with so much competition for bright young minds the questions posed by Hughson were how should packaging go about presenting itself as a positive and fulfilling career choice? And what kind of people should it be attracting? What kind of training should it be providing?

Dr Kachouri said that automation would increasingly lead to an upskilled workforce as machines took an increasing share of the more repetitive jobs. She said, “Skilled engineers will be highly sought after, and our biggest challenge is to find them.”

Kachouri pointed out that at the Dulux factory in Melbourne, considered one of the world's most advanced and which is almost completely automated, the person running the factory is not an IT professional. She said, “When Dulux was looking to hire it chose the person based on their reactivity, in other words how they responded to adverse situations. Automation means humans are needed in exactly this situation, to manage solutions to unexpected issues that occur, what happens if the machine does not act in the way it should. These are the people we need.”

Hughson raised the issue of resources for training, and asked Vernalls who should take responsibility for that: the person themselves, the brand owner, government, the packaging industry, the company? Vernalls' view was training should be the 70/20/10 split between on the job, projects and study. On the point of attracting young people she said, “We need to be connecting with young people at the point between high school and uni. Engineering does this really well, packaging should be the same. We need to be talking to young people as they begin the transition between school and uni and highlight the great career opportunities the packaging industry presents.”

Nerida Kelton said that the lack of undergraduate degrees in packaging was hurting the industry's ability to attract new talent. She said, “We're missing people at that level, there are no packaging degrees like there were in the '80s and '90s. Most of the people in this room come from an industrial design or food science background." Kelton did remind the audience that there are a range of educational packaging qualifications available through the AIP.

Hughson then asked Kachouri as both an academic and a businesswoman if universities were keeping pace with the real world. She said, “There is a gap, but it is both ways. People in the packaging industry need to continually develop their skill sets. APPMA is aiming to work with RMIT Online to develop specific courses, which will be online, that will enable continuous training.

“We need to develop critical thinking. This is the difference between humans and machines.”

Pointing to the previous big picture presentation by BrandOpus GM Nikki Moeschinger, Kachouri said that industry needs to develop lateral thinking and solutions-focused people, rather than just those who are good at doing what has always been done. Kelton said collaboration was key, and pointed out that the AIP itself was working with 40 associations around the world and taking the best learnings from all.

As it was the Women in Packaging breakfast, the panel wrapped up on the note that half the people at AUSPACK were women and an increasing number of speakers at industry events are women, whereas 20 years ago there were very few, saying it was a sign of real progress within the industry.

Women in Packaging is a PKN Packaging News + Food & Drink Business event. It was presented in collaboration with the AIP at the 2019 AIP National Technical Forum.

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