The flexible packaging industry is a dynamic and growing industry where technologies are rapidly evolving. Manufacturing in the 21st century is a whole new world, especially in a post-COVID-19 environment, and today’s production facilities incorporate state-of-the-art technologies and processes, from design to printing to conversion.
The industry is also committed to sustainability and working toward aligning flexible packaging to a circular economy framework. Through technology and innovation, flexible packaging reduces water and energy consumption, greenhouse gas emissions, and volatile organic compounds. And flexible packages provide excellent product protection that extends shelf life and helps to prevent food waste.
In the face of this growth, the flexible packaging industry—and the entire manufacturing industry—is facing a critical workforce shortage. To help alleviate this shortage, the Flexible Packaging Association (FPA) is working with organizations to help promote programs to place skilled workers in manufacturing positions.
The recent “The America Works Report” published by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce states that:
- There were 8.1 million vacant job openings in the United States—a record high—in March 2021. That’s up more than 600,000 from February.
- There are about half as many available workers for every open job—1.4 available workers/opening—across the country as there have been on average over the past 20 years. The historical average is 2.8. And the ratio continues to fall.
- In several states and industries, including hard-hit sectors like education and health services, as well as professional and business services, there are currently fewer available workers than the total number of jobs open.
- More than 90% of state and local chambers of commerce say worker shortages are holding back their economies. And more than 90% of industry association economists say employers in their sectors are struggling to find qualified workers for open jobs.
“As we stand on the cusp of what could be a great American resurgence, a worker shortage is holding back job creators across the country,” says Suzanne Clark, U.S. Chamber of Commerce president and CEO. “Together, we can—and we must—address our nation’s workforce challenges. When you lead the world in talent, you lead the world in solutions. With a highly skilled workforce, there’s nothing business cannot achieve and nothing we as a nation cannot do.”
FPA’s Emerging Leadership Council (ELC) was established to create a network of future leaders to drive issues and opportunities that have a long-term impact on the advancement of the U.S. flexible packaging industry. One of the ELC’s committees’ tiers is industry recruitment, and the committee recently completed a series of interviews and surveys on what the key needs are in the industry from a talent standpoint. It also identified a need for awareness of the diverse opportunities and growth in the industry, as well as education and development for skilled roles needed for the industry’s success. The committee is currently developing a recruitment marketing campaign to support the identified needs.
FPA is partnering with the National Association of Manufacturers’ (NAM) nonprofit workforce development and education partner, the Manufacturing Institute (MI). David McKnight, VP, Business Relations and Partnerships, the Manufacturing Institute, will be presenting on workforce development during the upcoming FPA Annual Meeting, Sept. 15–17, at the Ritz-Carlton in Amelia Island, Florida. The MI helps to grow and support the manufacturing industry’s workers for the advancement of modern manufacturing. The MI’s various initiatives support all American workers, including emerging workers, women, veterans, and students through training programs, community building, and career growth. It also equips manufacturers with the resources necessary to solve industry challenges. Modern manufacturing jobs require irreplaceable human skills and manufacturers need recruits capable of creativity, flexibility, critical thinking, design, innovation, engineering, and finance.
According to the MI, the challenges facing manufacturing include:
- Manufacturers continue to create more jobs than there are workers to fill them;
- There are nearly 500,000 open jobs in manufacturing;
- More than 2.4 million jobs could go unfilled over the next decade; and
- $2.5 trillion GDP is at risk if we don’t recruit and equip more workers to fill open jobs.
One of MI’s initiatives is the Heroes MAKE America program. The program facilitates introductions and supports a community of veterans to ease the transition from active duty to a career in the manufacturing industry. The Heroes program partners with manufacturing leaders who are proactively building supportive communities of veterans within their organizations. A network of participants and alumni are empowered to serve as resources for each other to facilitate successful transitions into manufacturing.
MI’s Federation for Advanced Manufacturing Education (FAME) is a leading advanced manufacturing workforce development and education program. Founded by Toyota in 2010 and transitioned to the MI in 2019, FAME helps students become highly skilled, globally competitive, well-rounded, and sought-after talent who can meet the unique needs and challenges of today’s manufacturing workforce. The two-year program combines training in technical skills with the development of professional practices while immersing workers in the culture of lean manufacturing.
The U.S. Chamber of Commerce and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation recently launched America Works, a new nationwide initiative mobilizing industry and government to address the United States’ growing worker shortage crisis. With this initiative, the U.S. Chamber is advocating for and requesting the business community to push for federal and state policy changes that will help train more Americans for in-demand jobs, remove barriers to work, and double the number of visas available for legal immigrants. The U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation is also expanding its employer-led workforce and job training programs, and launching new efforts to connect employers with up-and-coming talent.
“The worker shortage is real—and it’s getting worse by the day,” Clark says. “American businesses of every size, across every industry, in every state are reporting unprecedented challenges filling open jobs. The worker shortage is a national economic emergency, and it poses an imminent threat to our fragile recovery and America’s great resurgence.”
FPA will continue to cultivate partnerships to help combat the manufacturing critical workforce shortage to ensure the success of the flexible packaging industry.
Dani Diehlmann is vice president, communications, at FPA.