The recruitment committee of the FPA Emerging Leadership Council (ELC) launched its first program this summer, with 35 students participating from about 16 companies, large and small, across FPA’s membership.
The program allows interns to meet with peers and mentors to learn about the challenges and opportunities in the industry, says Apurva Shah, committee chairperson and senior marketing manager at Charter Next Generation (CNG).
The committee members, who are led by Shah, Amy Presher of Profol, and Abbey Phillips of American Packaging Corporation, set up the program so that interns meet online about every other week to hear from various industry leaders who offer mentoring and career advice.
“We wanted to bring a sense of community to the young future members of our industry,” Shah says.
The various companies run their own internships, so the connections through FPA were a way to show the interns the larger flexible packaging universe. Companies from across the country, as well as the United Arab Emirates and Canada, participate. The larger companies have systems to support networking within the intern community, Shah says. “But FPA also is a conglomeration of family-run companies, so these generally are small companies that have small internship programs.”
The main goal was to drive engagement with students who might not be familiar with the challenges and opportunities in flexible packaging. Indeed, some students say they didn’t realize the true benefits of flexible packaging and how the industry is working to create a circular economy with plastics until their college experience and internships. (Some of those insights will be seen in the Sept/Oct online edition of FlexPack VOICE®, where six of the summer interns will be profiled.)
In July, the students were to meet virtually with Loran Nordgren, co-author of “The Human Element: Overcoming the Resistance That Awaits New Ideas.” Later, they are to hear from a panel of sustainability experts—Fabio Peyer from Amcor Flexibles, Sal Pellingra from ProAmpac, and David McLain from Printpack.
The summer program also includes opportunities for students to meet in small groups of five or six to discuss topics and issues with a mentor. Those discussions are more intimate and allow for open discussions, Shah says.
The students then were tasked with a summer project, which was to identify ways that the ELC could improve its recruitment and retention programming. “Come Grow With Us”—as the project is called—is an effort for students to learn to give back while advancing the goals of the committee, Shah says. The committee wants to show the students early in their careers why it is important to have a sense of duty to elevate the wider industry and community.
Beyond This Summer
Shah expects the summer networking program to expand in the years ahead. Next summer, the intent is to have an in-person component. Over three or four days, the students could attend presentations facilitated by the ELC while continuing their networking efforts with other interns. The agenda would include speakers who would cater their discussions to the interns.
In the future, the recruitment committee might host a hiring event to help FPA member companies meet students from around the country. Since several companies don’t have the resources to individually recruit beyond their regions, the intent would be to use the FPA resources to broaden the reach and grow the pipeline of potential hires.
Shah knows companies can help launch a career with the proper introductions, acknowledging that the flexible packaging industry initially wasn’t on his radar. He went to Clemson University, joining Dow in 2009 doing sales before moving into a marketing role.
“For me, with flexible packaging, I completely stumbled on it,” he says. “I went to Clemson, which is a great packaging school, and I would love to tell you I had this really great plan put together, but I graduated during the recession.”
He wanted a good job. Dow was offering a sales development program, which he knew from other Clemson graduates had been a sound career choice.
The opportunities kept coming. He developed new skills and experiences while traveling. Flexible packaging opportunities took him to Chicago and Houston, then a short stint in Switzerland. After coming back to the United States, he got his MBA at Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern University before landing his position with CNG.
Bolhous Addresses Students
Shah says he has been inspired by Kathy Bolhous, chairperson of the FPA Board of Directors and CEO of CNG, and the importance she puts on industry involvement. This spring, Bolhous was named to Forbes magazine’s “50 Over 50” list. The list included Vice President Kamala Harris and other accomplished women over the age of 50 in various industries and disciplines.
Bolhous addressed the students at the first networking gathering in June. She talked about the importance of the industry to everyday life, noting that new technologies focusing on sustainability make a future in the industry exciting.
“Many of these technologies are just emerging,” she tells students. “And you are going to have an opportunity as you come into this industry to learn more about the role we can play with sustainability.”
Thomas A. Barstow is senior editor of FlexPack VOICE®.
If you are interested in learning more about the ELC’s recruitment work, contact Apurva Shah, committee chairperson, and the senior marketing director at Charter Next Generation. He can be reached at Apurva.Shah@cnginc.com or 864-360-1248.