Breaking into the Plastics Industry: A Comprehensive Guide for Career Shifters

Consider plastics – the computer or mobile device you’re reading this on, the chair you’re sitting on, or the car you drove in today. All of these items, and countless others, have at least one thing in common – they owe their existence, at least partially, to the plastics industry. A powerhouse of innovation and growth, the plastics industry plays a crucial role in virtually every sector, from healthcare to transportation, packaging to electronics. 

Now, you’re ready for a change in your career. The job market can be a bit intimidating. Well, here’s a thought: why not consider the plastics industry? As per the PLASTICS Industry Association, it accounts for around 1.2 million jobs in the U.S. alone. That’s a whole lot of careers. Whether it’s technical tasks or business development, quality assurance or project management, there’s a role out there for you.

You might be wondering, how can you fit into this vibrant industry? Well, that’s exactly what this blog is all about – it’s your handy guide to transitioning into the plastics industry. We’re going to discuss how to leverage your existing skills, prepare for the job hunt, and seize the exciting career opportunities this industry has to offer. So, are you ready to explore this new possibility?

Why Transition Into the Plastics Industry?

As you ponder about a career change, exploring the dynamics of the industry you’re considering is key. The plastics industry, often underappreciated, holds an abundance of opportunities. Here are some major splendid reasons why the plastics industry could be your next career destination:

Abundant Opportunities

 The plastics industry is vast, spanning across various sectors. It creates a plethora of job roles in manufacturing, design, sales, marketing, and more. For instance, a sales professional from a software company successfully transitioned into a sales role within a plastic packaging company, opening doors to new opportunities and growth.

Impactful Work

The work in this industry often has a significant impact, with plastic products playing a crucial role in numerous sectors. For instance, in the medical field, the use of plastics has transformed healthcare, contributing to the increase in life expectancy by nearly 10 years over the past fifty years, as per the International Life Sciences Institute.

Innovation-Driven

The plastics industry is at the forefront of innovation. With the ongoing development of biodegradable plastics and recycling technologies, there’s no end to the groundbreaking work being done. According to a report by Grand View Research, the global biodegradable plastics market size is expected to reach USD 7.6 billion by 2025, signaling great potential.

Competitive Compensation

As the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reports, wages in the plastics industry often exceed the median wage for all workers, making the financial aspect attractive for career changers. In 2023, the average wage for workers in the plastics manufacturing industry was $51,780, compared to the median for all workers at $38,640.

Skill Utilization

The plastics industry values a variety of skills. A study by Deloitte highlighted that soft skills like teamwork and communication are just as in high demand as technical skills within manufacturing industries, including plastics, offering a unique environment where diverse skills can prosper.

Career Growth

The industry encourages continuous learning, often offering professional development opportunities. This is attested by a survey by the Society of Plastics Engineers, where 70% of employers in the plastics industry reported offering training programs to their employees.

Sustainability Focus

The plastics industry’s commitment to sustainability creates opportunities for professionals interested in this area. Following a study by the American Chemistry Council, the plastics industry in the U.S. has invested nearly $4.2 billion since 2010 in recycling and recovery technologies.

Transitioning into the plastics industry could be a positive and enriching change. With its range of benefits, it’s an enticing prospect. You’ll find it’s an industry where your existing skills can shine, and new ones can be honed, all while contributing to an industry that shapes the world around us.

Recognizing Your Transferable Skills

When switching careers, it’s essential not to overlook the collection of skills you’ve already learned and mastered. These transferable skills, abilities you’ve developed that can be utilized in various work settings, can be your greatest advantage when transitioning into a new industry. Let’s identify the key transferable skills that are highly valued in the plastics industry:

Project Management: Managing projects, coordinating teams, meeting deadlines, and ensuring quality outputs are universally valued skills, and the plastics industry is no different. Whether it’s overseeing a production line or leading a product development project, these skills are essential.

Teamwork and Collaboration: The ability to work effectively within a team, collaborate with diverse individuals, resolve conflicts, and contribute to a positive work environment is crucial in manufacturing settings.

Problem-Solving: The ability to identify issues, analyze factors, and devise practical solutions is highly valued. This could involve troubleshooting equipment issues on the production floor or identifying ways to improve efficiency.

Communication Skills: Whether it’s written reports or oral presentations, effective communication in relaying information clearly and concisely is important. You could be explaining complex processes to a non-technical audience or working with suppliers to negotiate contracts.

Technical Skills: While this will depend on the specific role, some technical skills are likely to be transferable. This might include knowledge of specific software, programming languages, or machinery.

Sales and Customer Service: If you’ve worked in a role that involved selling a product or service or dealing with customers, these skills can be transferred to a variety of roles within the plastics industry.

Adaptability: Industries progressed and the ability to adapt to new methods, systems, or environments is a major plus. If you’ve worked in a dynamic sector or role, this adaptability will be a great asset.

Each skill you’ve honed in your previous roles can open doors in the plastics industry. So take inventory of your skills, and don’t underestimate their value. Even if they don’t seem directly related, remember that varied experiences and capabilities can offer fresh perspectives and make you an attractive candidate in the dynamic plastics industry.

Challenges in Transitioning

Transitioning into a new industry can be an exciting trip, but it comes with its own set of obstacles. It’s important to get ahead of these challenges, so you’re better equipped to overcome them. Here are potential hurdles you might face when transitioning into the plastics industry:

Skill Gap

The specialized nature of many roles in the plastics industry may require industry-specific knowledge or skills that you don’t currently possess. For example, you might need to learn about specific machinery or processes used in plastics manufacturing.

Industry Awareness

Understanding the nuances of the plastics industry, such as regulations, trends, or key players, may be a challenge initially. For instance, professionals from non-manufacturing sectors might not be familiar with the stringent safety regulations adhered to in the plastics industry.

Networking Difficulties

Building connections in a new industry can be challenging. If you’re transitioning from the finance industry to plastics, you might initially lack contacts in the new industry for job leads or advice.

Resume Relevance

Tailoring your resume to highlight how your previous experience is relevant to roles in the plastics industry can be tricky. An architect applying for a design role in a plastics company would need to align their past experiences to the requirements of the new role.

Interview Preparedness

Anticipating the questions and topics that could come up in a job interview in the plastics industry might be difficult without prior experience. For instance, someone from a software development background may not be prepared to answer questions about production processes in an interview for a project manager role in a plastics company.

Compensation Negotiation

Without a clear understanding of the compensation norms in the plastics industry, negotiating an offer might be challenging. A professional changing from a higher-paying industry might find the initial offers lower than their previous compensation.

Cultural Fit

Every industry has its own culture and work environment. Adjusting to the work culture of the plastics industry, be it the work pace, hierarchy, or interaction norms, can require some adaptation.

While these hurdles might seem frightening, keep in mind that every roadblock is an opportunity for learning and growth. With the right guide, you can overcome these and make a successful transition into the plastics industry. View them as stepping stones on your new career path in this industry.

10 Tips for Gearing Up for the Job Hunt

Once you’ve decided to make the switch to the plastics industry and identified your transferable skills, it’s time to start the job hunt. This phase requires strategic planning and preparation. Here are 10 tips to keep in mind as you start with your job search:

  1. Tailor Your Resume 

Modify your resume to highlight the skills and experiences most relevant to the job you’re applying for in the plastics industry. For example, if you’re applying for a project manager role, emphasize your project management experience.

  1. Craft a Stellar Cover Letter

Your cover letter is your chance to explain why you’re interested in the plastics industry and how your skills make you a great fit. Use it to tell a compelling story about your career change.

  1. Utilize Job Boards

Use job boards specialized in manufacturing or plastics industry positions. Websites like PlasticsJobs Network or iHireManufacturing can be a good starting point.

  1. Leverage Your Network

Reach out to contacts in the industry for advice or job leads. Attend industry events or join online communities to make new connections.

  1. Prepare For The Interview

Do your homework about the company and role before the interview. Be ready to answer questions about your career transition and how your past experience will contribute to your success in the new role.

  1. Showcase Transferable Skills

During the interview, focus on your transferable skills. Even if you lack industry-specific experience, skills like problem-solving, teamwork, or project management are valuable in any role.

  1. Demonstrate Industry Knowledge

Show that you understand the plastics industry by mentioning relevant trends, innovations, or news during the interview. This will show your genuine interest in the industry and the initiative to learn.

  1. Get Industry Certifications

If relevant, consider getting industry certifications. Certifications like Six Sigma or Certified Plastic Technologist can increase your credibility in the industry.

  1. Negotiate Smartly

Be prepared to negotiate your offer. Do your research to understand the typical compensation for the role and be prepared to discuss it.

  1. Stay Persistent

Changing careers is a marathon, not a sprint. Keep applying, connecting, and learning, even if you face initial rejections. Remember, every application and interview is an opportunity to learn and improve.

Starting a job hunt in a new industry might seem overwhelming, but with these tips, you’re well-equipped. You’re on the brink of an exciting new ride in the plastics industry, and every step you take brings you closer to your goal.

Building New Skills and Knowledge

While your existing skills will certainly be an asset in the plastics industry, it’s crucial to also develop new, industry-specific skills and knowledge. This shows your commitment to the new career path and makes you a more competitive candidate. Here are ways to acquire the skills and knowledge needed in the plastics industry:

  • Educational Programs: Consider enrolling in a relevant educational program. Many universities and colleges offer courses in plastics engineering, polymer science, or materials science. These programs provide in-depth knowledge about the industry.
  • Online Courses: Online learning platforms like Coursera, Udemy, or LinkedIn Learning offer courses related to the plastics industry. Topics might include injection molding, plastics manufacturing processes, or material properties of plastics.
  • Industry Certifications: Earning industry-specific certifications can showcase your expertise and commitment. For instance, the Society of Plastics Engineers offers a Certified Plastics Technologist certification.
  • Workshops and Seminars: Participate in workshops, seminars, or webinars organized by industry bodies or companies. These events often cover current trends, technologies, or challenges in the plastics industry.
  • On-the-Job Training: Once you land a job in the plastics industry, make the most of any training opportunities provided. This could range from safety training to learning to operate specific machinery.
  • Industry Publications: Regularly reading industry publications like Plastics News, Plastics Technology, or the Journal of Plastics can help you stay updated on the latest industry developments and deepen your understanding of the field.

Acquiring new skills and knowledge not only prepares you for your new career in the plastics industry but also demonstrates your initiative and eagerness to learn. This investment in your professional development will pay off as you apply these newfound skills in your job search and subsequent role in the vibrant world of plastics.

 

Making a career transition into the plastics industry can certainly seem like a big step. Like any change, it demands courage, effort, and persistence. However, the potentials for growth, learning, and impact in the world of plastics are vast. Your existing skills are an asset, and your passion to learn and adapt are your ticket to success. With the right approach, your career switch can open doors to new opportunities, rewarding work, and a thriving professional voyage.

Excited about the opportunities in the plastics industry? Don’t venture into your new career path alone. At Plastic Executive Search, we’re here to turn your ambitions into reality. With our industry insight and network of leading companies, your perfect job match is closer than you think. Reach out to us today, and let’s construct your future in the plastics industry, one opportunity at a time!

Ed Keil

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