Between Prejudice and Reality: Packaging Technology as an Industry of the Future
Packaging technology is at the cutting edge – at the intersection of technological innovation and environmental sustainability. Yet the sector is struggling with a dwindling number of qualified professionals and a lack of demand among prospective students. How can this situation be counteracted?
Packaging technology and packaging machine manufacturing are at the intersection of innovation and environmental sustainability and, as Marc Funke, Managing Director of the Packaging Valley packaging machine cluster, points out, “have never been as important as they are today”. Despite the enormous potential, the industry is struggling with a shortage of skilled workers and declining numbers of graduates in technical degree courses. This development is not exclusively demographic, but also reflects societal changes. To make matters worse, many young people are insufficiently informed about career and study opportunities in packaging technology.
To counteract this imbalance, the experts believe that more intensive educational work, the early promotion of enthusiasm for technology and closer cooperation between industry and universities are essential.
Why Packaging Technology is Hardly on the Radar
From his experience as Dean of the Bachelor's degree programme in Packaging Technology and Sustainability at HTWK Leipzig, Professor Dr.-Ing. Eugen Herzau knows that the degree programme “Packaging Technology and Sustainability”, for example, is largely unknown. “Many young people cannot imagine that you can study 'something like that'.” Prof. Dipl. Ing. Stefan Junge from the Berlin University of Applied Sciences, Department of Packaging Technology, can also confirm this. In his experience, young people lack a concrete idea of what it is like to study and what job and career opportunities are available later. “Too few know that there is even an apprenticeship or course of study in the packaging industry and how varied the study contents and later job opportunities are,” says Junge. In addition, according to Herzau, corresponding courses of study are hardly mentioned, if at all, in the career counselling centres of the employment agency.
Prof. Junge also points to the so-called “demographic dip“: “There are too many study and training places for too few school leavers.” In addition, according to him, the proliferation of ever new fields of study, which draw the attention of first-year students to a wide range of options and thus push the classic, down-to-earth apprenticeship professions into the background, is making things more difficult.
Funke, however, sees a big problem in the prejudices of young people towards the field of study, such as “packaging is rubbish or we don't need packaging”. Herzau also emphasises that the industry is misunderstood in many respects. Prejudices often arise from ignorance. To overcome this, he suggests a multi-pronged approach. This starts with educational work in vocational information centres and schools in the context of vocational information days, continues with projects with companies in the packaging industry and extends to contributions in the media of all kinds: “An interesting idea would be a TV programme that deals with sustainable living and the sensible use of packaging”. Marc Funke also emphasises the importance of initiatives such as the Packaging Valley Makeathon and calls on universities and companies to work together to improve the image of the industry “by participating in actions such as the Makeathon and carrying out many practical projects to make packaging technology tangible and tangible”.
An Opportunity to Help Shape the Future
The industry certainly offers a broad spectrum of professional opportunities and thematic focuses. “These range from sustainability and recycling to reusable packaging and new materials made from renewable raw materials to biodegradability and sustainable packaging development,” explains Prof. Herzau, referring to the diverse career opportunities that range from packaging manufacturers to food, pharmaceutical and cosmetics companies to recycling companies, design agencies, printing and packaging machine construction as well as public authorities and educational institutions.
Another plus point of the degree programme is that great emphasis is placed on combining theory and practice. The curriculum is broad and offers a varied selection of lectures on topics such as packaging technology, environment and design or marketing, development, construction, machine technology, optimisation and business administration.
According to Prof. Junge, students can expect various excursions, visits to trade fairs and, last but not least, the opportunity for student exchanges. “A semester abroad at partner universities in countries such as France, the USA or Ukraine is also possible to broaden the international horizon. In the Master's programme, more attention is paid to preparing students for future leadership tasks,” he describes the promising opportunities.
The career prospects are also diverse: “Many, because the ability to think, act and cooperate in an interdisciplinary way is what distinguishes graduates and these skills are in high demand,” says Funke. In addition to the professional diversity, Prof. Junge also emphasises the social relevance of the sector. Graduates can not only count on well-paid jobs, but also make a meaningful contribution to society. “If you want to actively shape the future, studying packaging technology is just the right thing for you,” confirms Funke.
In this context, Herzau also points to numerous initiatives that deserve more attention: “The efforts of packaging material and packaging manufacturers are geared towards sustainability. Unfortunately, they are often not sufficiently noticed, especially by the younger generation. It is always something new and thus exciting to work in teams on projects. Often our graduates see the results of their work on the shelf again and are then proud”.
For the cooperation between universities and industry, Herzau recommends a joint appearance in schools “to inform about the industry and the different job profiles. This would not only improve the image of the industry, but also inspire more young people to study packaging technology”. Marc Funke also recommends “that companies seek contact with schools at an early stage and show how exciting a job in packaging technology is”. He advocates awakening enthusiasm for technology as early as primary or secondary school.
Herzau, Junge and Funke agree on this: more cooperation and better communication are now needed to attract the next generation to this versatile and future-oriented industry.