Catching up with CPULD alumni
We were interested in learning how the pandemic had affected the packaging industry on a personal level, so CPULD reached out to our alumni with a survey and asked them to share what was going on in their lives and with their careers since COVID-19. As usual, many of our alumni were happy to share their stories with us!
From what we learned, 90% of our packaging professionals were not negatively affected by the pandemic. In fact, 40% of respondents told us that their jobs have improved and/or they’ve gained new responsibilities due to the pandemic’s changes to the workplace. Of responding alumni, 40% are now working partly-to-mostly from home and have a lot less work-related travel to contend with. Only one packaging engineer among our alumni lost his employment due to the pandemic; he said that he could have gotten another packaging job fairly quickly but chose instead to go back to school for his Master’s degree.
Between the responses received recently, previous updates from alumni, and scouring their LinkedIn profiles, it appears that 90% of our packaging systems and design alumni have found work directly in packaging. Whether it’s being a structural designer for International Paper, a packaging engineer for Coca-Cola, or a project engineer for Rehrig Pacific, most alumni stay in the field after graduation. And, while the majority of our alumni seem to stay in the Southeast, we do have alumni connections from New York City to Costa Mesa, California, and in a dozen states across the country (Image 1).
If you’re interested in learning what a packaging professional’s day-to-day job looks like and what our alumni have to say about the industry during the pandemic, read their following responses.
Senior Packaging Engineer
Daily activities: I am heavily involved in various activities, but mostly support new product development projects. We are involved with projects that can be as short as a couple months to as long as a couple years from start to finish. We do a lot as packaging engineers, but some tasks I am involved with are competitive benchmarking, concepting, prototyping, giving feedback/input on product development, collaboration with suppliers, building specifications, creating robust test plans, testing result analysis, etc.
You really are involved with designs and setting up the full packaging system from primary packaging all the way through unit load design. It is very exciting to see how far product and packaging comes from start to finish then to eventually see it sitting on shelf.
Life during the pandemic: In the world of packaging, the pandemic has created a very challenging environment that has directly impacted the way the consumer shops. Even though e-commerce is not a new trend, the pandemic has accelerated the need for e-commerce packaging.
On a more day-to-day basis, we have had to work through challenges of working from home, for example, not being able to go to a CAD table to cut out samples, not being able to go review testing results in person, or navigating virtual team meetings/conference calls. We all have had to adapt our ways of working, and, while challenging, it has been amazing to see the resiliency and dedication from all team members working during this time.
Daily activities: Currently, I am responsible for the internal operations of the business. In short, this means I map out and analyze all processes to ensure operational excellence. Being in this position requires process optimization skills and the ability to spot and act on opportunities to drive efficiencies. My role is designed to reduce wasted time, pain points, and increase profitability - all which becomes evident through our key performance indicators.
I will be starting a new role as the area manager of a fulfillment center at Amazon, and my duties will be similar. I will oversee a team of 50 to 200 warehouse associates and be responsible for maintaining production in my designated area of the floor. I will be responsible for my team’s safety and monitoring our KPI’s [key performance indicators] to ensure that all workflows run smoothly and efficiently, while meeting, if not exceeding, customer expectations.
Life during the pandemic: There are opportunities everywhere! Amidst the pandemic, it became apparent that many businesses were not equipped to face the challenge. The pandemic forced businesses to do a deep dive and drive systematic changes to improve their current processes.
Right now, every business wants to cut costs and increase productivity. But if you can do those things, there will always be roles available. I am very excited to work for Amazon and extremely grateful for the time I have previously spent learning about the implementation of Lean Six Sigma and operations.
Packaging Corporation of America
Daily activities: I started full time in Corrugated Sales in 2015 and moved into my current role in 2018. I manage and am responsible for all employee training for our local Food Safety Certification (ISO 22000), Quality Management System (ISO 9001), Haz-mat Packaging requirements, and Sustainability (PEFC, FSC, SFI). Learning to think critically, technical writing skills, and understanding testing standards have helped me to excel.
I work with our local team to execute continuous improvement projects that make an impact on our key drivers. I work as a liaison between our customers and production team to resolve quality issues and drive mutually beneficial improvement. Good communication skills and the ability to work with a diverse team who have conflicting objectives has proved beneficial.
Life during the pandemic: While my day-to-day life and responsibilities have not changed greatly, there have been some changes. I work in the office four days a week, wear a mask, and socially distance. I have become a resource to my local team as we all have had to rapidly become more tech savvy. I manage a lot of the documentation and communication with employees regarding the pandemic response.
The greatest changes to my role have been how to train and engage our workforce through wearing masks, small gatherings, and social distancing – often over Teams. Being able to adapt to change, communicate change positively, and help others understand the benefits of these changes have been some of the challenges I have faced.
Homologation Project Leader of the Packaging Qualification Lab
Daily activities: My work in the lab involves validating packaging components for skincare and makeup projects (jars, bottles, lip gloss applicators, nail polish) to ensure they meet the proper specifications. The basic requirements of primary packaging are that they do not leak or crack and perform overall as they should for the consumer.
I also work with packaging engineers to trouble shoot problems seen in the market (leaking jars, bad pumps, etc.). E-commerce is booming, so a huge part of my job is also to test products through ISTA6 A.
Life during the pandemic: Like any changes that come in your career, look for the unexpected opportunities brought by the challenges. The pandemic has made jobs difficult in many ways, but if you are willing to try new things and continue learning, you can work on things that you otherwise may have never had visibility to.
All in all, companies appreciate proactive employees who are continuous learners.
Packaging Engineer Specialist
Daily activities: In my team, there are currently five packaging engineers who fall under the Plant Modernization division, three of us are based in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, one in Juarez, Mexico, and one in Wuxi, China.
My main role is supporting the global service and repair operations by being the main point of contact for any issues or packaging-related needs. Much of the medical equipment we offer like CT scanners, X-rays, and ultrasounds are serviced at hospitals. They have spare parts that, instead of being scrapped, are sent to repair centers and are then are sold at lower costs than new spare parts.
My main goal is to address the packaging related damages that the parts have through either packaging redesign or review. The parts I work with range from small circuit boards to large amplifiers that can weigh over 200 lbs. and require wooden crates for shipment. Other responsibilities are supporting NPI [national provider identifier] projects at other sites, validating packaging to ISTA standards, and addressing packaging issues with the suppliers that sell spare parts.
Life during the pandemic: As part of the Plant Modernization group, my manager is constantly working on projects that involve automation. At the beginning of the pandemic, he saw a need to increase production for some ventilator parts using automation. And he brought me along to assist in developing two fully automated packaging cells for parts that are used in ventilators and anesthesia equipment.
I defined the packaging material and method of packing as well as some of the equipment we used. We worked with a local engineering firm that designed the whole layout and built/sourced all the components for the cell. The cells consist of using UR co-bots to pick a part, bag it, form a box, and pack the part inside the box with some padding. They are expected to be completed and installed at one of our sites within the next two months.
With this project complete, I am looking forward to working on other packaging automation projects.
Daily activities: I was the Product Engineer for a small start-up company in Michigan. I oversaw all testing both in house and 3rd party. For in house testing, I developed, completed, and improved the testing methods to best meet the national standard requirements. For 3rd party testing, I contacted the testing facilities, set up what materials were to be tested and how, and received the final reports.
I also worked on improving the pallet both for general use and for special cases. A lot of my time was spent making Excel reports and meetings.
Life during the pandemic: The pandemic resulted in me losing this job, but I was not happy in the position and have found myself much happier now that I’ve gone back to school to pursue a Masters in packaging.
Daily activities: Currently, I’m working at the writing division of Newell (Elmer's, Sharpie, Papermate, etc.) to design new packaging structures for e-commerce and on shelf for new product launches in Europe. I work primarily with ArtiosCAD for new product design, and create samples using CAD table.
There is a lot of collaboration with cross-functional teams such as brand, chemistry, test lab, and legal to ensure that packaging meets aesthetic requirements for the brand team and will hold up during distribution through multiple channels. One of my major focuses is on sustainability and designing packaging that is both cost-effective and within sustainability requirements in European markets, especially as retailers push for plastic-free wherever possible.
Life during the pandemic: Working from home during the pandemic has made me realize the importance of an office environment, especially working in a role where collaboration and hands-on work is encouraged and often required.
It has been a challenge to design with limited access to a CAD table, but Newell has been flexible in allowing employees to return to the office safely.
Daily activities: Currently, I do a lot of work spec’ing out boxes and other corrugated packaging, as well as designing new items to meet customer, supply chain, and manufacturing needs.
I also work on analyzing package failures and determining how to fix the problems. This includes working with machine suppliers and the IP machine team to solve issues on customer case packers and erectors. I also help with pallet optimization throughout my company and our suppliers.
Life during the pandemic: The packaging industry has provided a stable and enjoyable career even through the rough times that the pandemic created. I am as busy as ever, largely with helping our customers adapt to supply chain shortages, new consumer trends, and, of course, the rapid growth of e-commerce.
Rehrig Pacific Co.
Life during the pandemic: My job has remained the same, but I now work 90% from home instead of 50/50 working at the office and traveling.
The pandemic has brought exposure to how tough the labor market can be for finding front line workers.
It has driven many companies to have a stronger focus on automation (especially with demand for increased wages). Directly because of this labor scarcity, my company has focused on automating more and more processes.