A Fresh Take: Injecting Young Talent Into An Aging Plastic Industry

The plastic industry finds itself at a fascinating crossroads. On the one hand, we have a rich legacy of experienced workers who’ve been the industry’s backbone for years. On the other hand, there’s an impending wave of retirements, creating an urgent need for fresh talents to fill the void. This situation has put the industry in a bit of a predicament.

According to BLS 2022 data, the plastics and rubber product manufacturing industry has one of the greatest share of workers ages 55 and over – 28.2%. As the veteran workforce steps back, the industry is left grappling with a noticeable talent gap. It’s not just about recruiting new faces, but ensuring these recruits bring innovative thinking and relevant technical skills to the table.

So, what can the plastic industry do to attract and retain these young professionals? What strategies might make the industry more appealing to this new generation? And what exactly does this generation seek in their careers? Join us as we explore these deciding questions, carefully checking into the industry’s challenges and providing actionable strategies to bridge this talent gap.

The Aging Workforce in the Plastic Industry

The “aging workforce” refers to the growing number of employees nearing retirement age in a particular sector. In the plastic industry, this term has taken on significant weight because of the large number of professionals belonging to the Baby Boomer generation – those born between 1946 and 1964. As these professionals approach retirement, the industry braces for a major reshuffling of talent.

Key points to grasp about the aging workforce in the plastic industry include:

  • The average age of a plastic industry worker is now over 45, as reported by the Society of the Plastics Industry (SPI), and many are close to retirement age.
  • The retirement of this experienced layer of the workforce could lead to a knowledge gap, considering their extensive industry experience and acquired skills.
  • According to Deloitte, manufacturing is projected to face a shortfall of 2.4 million workers in the next decade, a reality the plastic industry cannot escape.

The aging workforce, while much appreciated for its contributions to the industry, presents a clear challenge when it comes to succession planning. As this group steps back from active roles, there’s an urgent need to make sure the next generation can effortlessly blend into the industry’s fabric.

The Growing Need for Young Talent

Let’s now switch gears and talk about “young talent”. That’s a term we use to describe dynamic and ambitious individuals who are quite new to the professional world or have a few years of job experience under their belt. They’re mostly Millennials and Gen Z folks – in other words, folks born between the mid-1980s and the early 2000s. 

Here are a few key points that explain why the plastic industry needs more and more of these young workers:

  • There’s a big talent gap right across manufacturing, not just in plastics. McKinsey’s research suggests that 67% of businesses in this sector are having a tough time finding the right people. It’s a challenge that’s keeping a lot of people on their toes.
  • These young professionals bring a fresh approach, new ideas, and an understanding of modern technology to the table. They’re quick to adapt, and they’re problem-solvers by nature. That’s exactly the kind of attitude we need in today’s fast-paced work scenario.
  • Speaking about the importance of these young workers, Carolyn Lee, Executive Director of The Manufacturing Institute, says, “The young generations are critically important for the future of manufacturing. They bring the technical skills and innovative thinking that drives advanced manufacturing.”

Yes, attracting young talent is absolutely necessary. But it’s not as simple as ushering them in and showing them to a desk. It’s making sure they’re a good fit, and helping them grow along with the industry. How can the plastic industry do that?

7 Ways to Bridge the Gap

We’ve talked about the older workforce getting ready to pass the baton and the need for new blood to take it up. But what’s being done to make that handover smooth? What are the tried and tested methods to get young folks interested in the plastics world? Let’s take a look at 7 ways companies in the industry are making this happen: 

  1. Educational Partnerships

Educational partnerships are collaborations between companies and academic institutions to provide students insights into the plastic industry and prepare them for potential careers in the field. A real-life example comes from the Society of Plastics Industry (SPI), which has built strong connections with several universities and colleges. They offer scholarships and internship opportunities specifically for students interested in joining the plastics industry.

Here are three tips on how companies can establish successful educational partnerships:

Choose your academic partners wisely: Start by identifying universities or colleges that offer programs relevant to the plastic industry, such as material science or chemical engineering.

Open up internships and scholarships: Practical work experience and financial support can make a world of difference to students. At the same time, it gives companies the chance to spot potential recruits early on.

Hold workshops or guest lectures: Regular engagements with students offer insights into the industry and can spark interest in a potential career in plastics. Show them the innovative work your company is doing, and they just might envision themselves as part of your team.

  1. Promoting Innovation

Promoting innovation is all about showcasing the modern and cutting-edge aspects of working in the plastic industry to attract young, forward-thinking talent. A company that’s doing this well is Techmer PM. It’s at the forefront of “design for recyclability”, a progressive approach that’s resonating with the environmentally conscious Gen Z workforce.

For companies aiming to effectively promote innovation to attract young talent, here are three tips to consider:

Highlight technological advances: Let potential recruits know that your company is not stuck in the past but is making strides in utilizing modern technology in its processes.

Showcase innovative projects: Regularly share the exciting, innovative projects your team is working on. This could be on your company blog, social media platforms, or newsletters.

Engage with the tech-savvy community: Actively participate in industry events or forums where innovation in plastics is discussed. This could open opportunities to engage with young, tech-savvy individuals who could be potential recruits. 

  1. Offering Apprenticeships

Offering apprenticeships is a practical way for companies to train young talent while also giving them a taste of the working environment. It’s a win-win situation: companies groom potential future employees, while young professionals gain valuable hands-on experience. One good example is BASF, the renowned chemical company, which runs numerous apprenticeship programs around the world, including in its plastic division.

Here are three tips on how companies can effectively offer apprenticeships:

Establish a well-structured program: Set clear goals and objectives for the apprenticeship. Ensure it provides a comprehensive overview of the job and offers opportunities for practical learning.

Mentorship is key: Allocate experienced staff to mentor these apprentices. This fosters a supportive learning environment and enhances knowledge transfer.

Create a pathway for employment: If possible, provide high-performing apprentices a chance to transition into full-time roles. It’s a great way to retain talent that’s already familiar with your operations.

  1. Investing in Training

We all need training, helping employees brush up on their skills and learn new ones. A company doing a great job with this is Dow Chemical. They’ve got some top-notch training programs that help their team stay in the loop of everything going on in the plastics industry.

So, if you want to make training a big part of your company, here are a few tips:

Make training personal: Every employee is different, so don’t stick to a one-size-fits-all program. Make sure you’re taking the time to figure out what each person needs to learn and grow.

Learn on the job: Nothing beats getting to put your new knowledge into action right away. Whether it’s a mentor who shows you the ropes or a project where you can apply your latest training, mixing work and learning is a winning combo.

Keep the learning going: Let your team know that it’s always a good time to learn something new. Maybe that means setting up regular workshops or webinars. The goal is to create a place where learning is just part of the job.

  1. Flexible Work Arrangements

Flexible work arrangements are just different ways of organizing the work day to suit people’s lives. They can include things like working from home, starting and finishing at different times, or working longer but fewer days. This kind of flexibility is really important to a lot of younger workers. The plastic company Amcor, for example, offers flexible work options to their employees, and that’s made the company a pretty attractive place to work.

Here are some straightforward tips for making flexible work arrangements:

Offer different options: Work flexibility extends beyond the home office. You can also try things like different start times, part-time work, or even job sharing.

Keep communicating: It’s really important to keep the lines of communication open. When people know exactly what’s expected of them, they’re more likely to stay productive.

Trust your people: Flexibility can only work if you trust your employees. Start off small and then build up the program once you see how it’s working out.

  1. Fair Pay and Benefits

When young people are job hunting, they’re not looking at how much they’ll get paid. They’re also thinking of things like health insurance, retirement plans, and whether they can still get paid if they take a leave for vacation or sickness. They’re looking for a full package, and companies that can offer that stand a better chance of roping in young talent. For instance, Berry Global is a company that’s known for keeping an eye on its pay and benefits to make sure they’re in the ballpark of what other similar companies are doing out there.

Here’s how other companies can follow suit:

Stay informed: Make sure you know what other companies are offering. It helps to stay competitive and attractive to job hunters.

Look at the whole picture: Let’s think entirely past the paycheck. Consider all the other benefits like health insurance, retirement plans, vacation time, even things like flexible working hours. It’s the total package that counts.

Let them know: Make sure potential employees know what you’re offering. Make sure to discuss the full benefits during hiring, and continue highlighting them even after the new hires join your team. Knowing all the perks they’re getting can make a big difference for employees.

  1. Leveraging Social Media

Social media platforms like Instagram, LinkedIn, and Twitter are great places to find young talent. Take Covestro, they’re sharing their innovative work in plastics on their social media accounts and catching the eye of jobseekers.

Here are three simple tips on how to use social media to find new recruits:

Spread your presence: Use all the social media platforms you can. You never know where your future employees might be hanging out online.

Show off your work: Don’t just post job ads. Share pictures of your team, fun workplace events, or cool projects you’re working on.

Chat with your followers: Answer questions, respond to comments, and keep the conversation going.

Using these simple strategies, companies can reach more people, interact with potential employees, and show them that the plastic industry is a pretty cool place to work.

 

By opening the doors to young talent and facilitating their growth, the plastic industry would not only bridge the existing talent gap but also ensure the industry remains vibrant and innovative. In the end, our goal is to create a strong, stable bridge that carries the industry forward, welcoming new energy while cherishing the legacies of the past.

Are you geared up to attract the fresh, young talent into your workforce? Partner with us at Plastic Executives Recruiters. We’ve got the experience, tools, and insights to help you entice the best and brightest in the industry. Reach out to us now and let’s power your company into its future, together!

Ed Keil

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