Wanted: Industry Input
Since PMP News began in 1999 surveying packaging professionals about their salaries and careers, "manpower shortages" and the need for "qualified personnel" have been commonly voiced complaints. So when I came across these concerns expressed during this year's survey, the results of which are explained on page 22 of this issue, I wasn't too surprised. However, one statement made by a respondent this year bothered me immediately: "Colleges do not train for real-life work in the pharmaceutical industry." This respondent couldn't be more wrong.
True, packaging students don't face the deadlines and pressure that packaging engineers and designers in the field do. However, thanks to generous industry donations of money, machinery, supplies, and educational materials, students at several packaging schools use the same tools and materials that professionals do. And, thanks to industry input, they are searching for solutions to some real-life challenges.
For instance, this year DuPont Medical Packaging donated textbooks and equipment, established scholarships, and provided guest instructors for programs at the Rochester Institute of Technology Packaging Science Department, Michigan State University (MSU) School of Packaging, Clemson University Department of Packaging Science, and University of Wisconsin-Stout's Packaging School. Adolph Gottscho Inc., a manufacturer of printing and coding equipment and supplies, is the benefactor responsible for the library at Rutgers University Center for Packaging Science and Engineering. And even the publisher of PMP News, Canon Communications LLC, donated $25,000 to the Packaging Education Forum, which will help the forum conduct and expand its packaging scholarship initiatives.
Such donations help further packaging-student education. Hugh Lockhart, PhD, a professor at the School of Packaging at MSU's Center for Food and Pharmaceutical Research, calls such industry support constant, and he hopes for increased support. "Our technical needs are greater, and our costs are increasing," he explains. "And we need to support PhD candidates to allow them to stay to continue research."
But money isn't everything. For packaging schools like MSU's to prepare students for industry positions, they must receive constant input from industry on the types of studies and research they should undertake. "We need industry to maintain contact with us and to not forget that we are here," Lockhart explains. "Such communication gives us a better understanding of industry needs."
Research programs at MSU include dissolution shelf-life studies, an examination of how line speed affects bottle closures, an evaluation of olfactory sensors for inspection, a study of the use of automatic identification like radio frequency, and an evaluation of package performance during distribution. At Rutgers's permeation lab, students measure the moisture-vapor transmission rates and oxygen permeation rates of packaging materials. Studies like these most likely originate from industry suggestions, because professionals themselves conduct similar evaluations.
Lockhart points out that MSU's programs already benefit from alliances with manufacturers, suppliers, and industry associations. "The School of Packaging, with the guidance of our Industry Advisory Committee, bases education on the real-life experience brought by faculty, alumni, and the Industry Advisory Committee." And firms like Eli Lilly & Co., Sealed Air, and Westvaco, as well as FDA, participate as members of the Center for Food and Pharmaceutical Packaging Research or the Consortium for Distribution Packaging Research.
Rutgers has ties to Merck and BD, and its distribution packaging lab is approved by the International Safe Transit Authority (ISTA) to perform ISTA tests on commercial packages.
Lockhart agrees that there is a definite industry shortage of qualified personnel. "Because of this shortage, nearly all our students find employment within a year. They are heavily recruited by pharmaceutical companies."
But industry shouldn't blame packaging schools for the shortage. In fact, the schools are a source of talent. "Several hundred School of Packaging graduates work in healthcare companies, large and small," says Lockhart. "And these companies often return to the school to hire more graduates. One major pharmaceutical company has returned at least eight times to recruit graduates." He adds that several graduates serve as directors and group leaders in the industry.
To remedy the shortage of qualified personnel, Lockhart recommends that drug and device manufacturers continue to communicate their technical needs to packaging schools. Not only will such input help ensure that students continue to graduate with the skills necessary for packaging drugs and devices, but it will demonstrate the continuing need for packaging programs like MSU's. "It gives us ammunition when talking to the University," says Lockhart.