UK packaging industry faces workforce ‘time bomb’

Peter MacQueen, Principal Lecturer in Apprenticeships at Sheffield Hallam University, home of the UK’s only dedicated packaging undergraduate degree apprenticeship course, has urged that more must be done by the UK packaging industry to address the growing workforce crisis.

With the challenge of fewer young professionals entering the UK packaging industry, MacQueen emphasises the need for more immediate action to secure the industry’s future. “It’s no secret that the UK packaging industry has a major issue in attracting, developing and retaining its talent pipeline. We need to get serious about a solution. The UK packaging industry is world-leading in many aspects, but what happens five, ten years down the line when we don’t have the workforce to deliver on that, particularly in the more specialised technical skills? We fall behind, and that’s a timebomb we need to defuse, and fast,” he said. “There are many reasons for this, but it all comes back to how we’re laying the foundation – education. It’s the cornerstone of progress in the packaging industry, but our options have been limited. In the US and Germany, there are very established programmes that arm the next generation of packaging professionals with sector-specific skills and competencies, but we have lagged behind in the UK. That’s what makes Sheffield Hallam’s Higher Degree Apprenticeship Packaging Professional BSc course so pivotal in addressing these challenges; there’s nothing else available like it in the UK.

He continued, “Within the industry, we’re well aware of what an exciting and dynamic field we work in, but that’s not always well communicated externally. Certainly, the packaging sector doesn’t have the same ‘glamour’ as many other engineering-led industries. As a result, we need to work on attracting new young talent into the industry in the first place, which is no mean feat. At the same time, we need to upskill the future leaders in the sector. Our course is designed to do just that, combining academic study with practical work experience, and no age limits.”

Designed in collaboration with leading industry experts, the Sheffield Hallam Higher Degree Apprenticeship Packaging Professional BSc undergraduate course curriculum covers a broad spectrum of topics, including materials science, sustainability theory, supply chain knowledge, business management, and legislative awareness. This integrated approach ensures that graduates are well-prepared to meet the industry’s current and future challenges.

Now open for 2024/2025 enrolment, one of the course’s key features is its work-based learning approach, allowing students to combine academic study with practical work experience. This structure supports both the students’ learning and the businesses they work for. Employers in England can utilise Apprenticeship levies to fund the course, making it a cost-effective investment in talent development.

MacQueen added, “We cannot risk taking our foot off the gas pedal, because the packaging workflow crisis won’t resolve unless we get proactive. We’re at a critical juncture, and to keep the UK packaging industry at the global forefront, we must invest in education. Our course, the only one of its kind in the UK, is designed with that in mind. It’s arming the next generation of packaging professionals to take us forwards. Places are limited to ensure every student can engage fully, so we invite packaging professionals and businesses to join us in shaping the future of the industry by enrolling.”

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