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Keep work interesting, and they'll stay

To keep good packaging professionals, say the experts Packaging World talked to, challenge them with interesting work. Let them be creative, autonomous, even entrepreneurial.
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Men-or women or packaging people-do not live by bread alone. To get them money sure helps. To keep them it's simply not enough. "Compensation wears off on anybody over time if it's the wrong environment" says Eric Schwartz vice president of manufacturing at Dole Fresh Vegetables in Soledad CA. Schwartz oversees Dole's fresh salad packaging operation in central California. He says the tight labor market for packaging people especially in California has forced Dole to rethink the work of a packaging engineer to attract and keep the best and brightest. Dole's revised approach: Give the engineers more room to be creative. In addition to the regular projects needed to continue operations "We'll give them a percentage of their time to work on a combination of my wish list and their wish list" says Schwartz. "They're asked what they see out on the floor that they just want to experiment with." Dan Alameda is a current example of the benefits of this approach. New at Dole Alameda used to work for a packaging machinery OEM. At Dole he began to focus on how to improve the sealing efficiency of the company's fleet of vf/f/s machines a "wish list" activity. "There is nothing more difficult to package [via automation] than fresh produce" says Alameda. "Not only is the product very difficult to handle the high OTR [oxygen transmission rate] materials are extremely difficult to run." He identified improvements that he felt could be made to the seal jaws and related components. "They were difficult maintenance-wise to keep in adjustment and they were creating a lot of downtime causing a lot of rejects" says Alameda. "Yields in our film and our total throughput was dropping off." Alameda felt he could redesign the seal jaws himself. At many other companies Alameda believes he would have been told to forget it. "A lot of companies today strictly want the OEM to handle this. They don't want to get involved in this and they don't invest in the people that can do this type of work." At Dole he was given the green light. "I'd say I spend about half of my time [right now] doing this." While Alameda's "wish list" item is definitely rooted in the here and now other firms give their engineers creative license to think about the future. That's an approach the venerable Coca-Cola Co. in Atlanta uses to keep its engineers fresh. "What we try to do is give people a certain amount of opportunity to explore those things that are of interest to them but remain relevant to the business" Ian Roberts director of package development tells PW. "In our creative technology development area we have a number of initiatives aimed at exploration of new technology. "Not all efforts produce a result that goes to market. But they do give us a pool of technologies to choose from to get a jump-start on filling a [specific] need as it arises." Many packagers we interviewed say they try to create an atmosphere that gives their packaging people as much creative freedom as possible mitigating the "big company" feeling. That's what Hershey Foods strives for according to Wade Latz packaging systems engineering manager. "There's an element of entrepreneurship that goes on here that engineers at other companies may not have the opportunity to experience" he says. An example? "On one packaging line we make a number of SKUs all packed in the same case size but with different preprinted copy meaning we have to carry fifteen different supplies of corrugated. "One engineer came to me and said 'Do you mind if I look at the idea of installing an on-line printing system so we only have to stock one size of case? That way we can just print the case with the proper info and bar codes based on what we're running that day.'And I said 'Yes go ahead see how much it costs figure out how you would do it see how much money we would save see what the rate of return is on it.' So now he's working on it. I could come up with fifteen or twenty more examples if I sat and thought about it" he adds. New products new interests The lifeblood of any business today is new product development. The good news is not only do new products form a foundation for business growth they sustain the interest of packaging personnel charged with making an idea a production reality. At Glaxo Wellcome in Research Triangle Park NC this is a key strategy for retaining packaging personnel. "We've got a very good pipeline of new products" says Bruce Cohen director of packaging technology. "People get to work on new product launches they get to do troubleshooting on a line they get involved in graphics." Hershey Foods has a similar environment [regarding new products as a way to capture the interest of engineers]. "We have a good solid stream of new projects coming in and that's exciting for engineers" says Hershey's Latz. "That's what we've trained for it gets our juices flowing and there's a lot of room for innovation and creativity. That's a big thing that keeps us here." Ocean Spray (Lakeville-Middleboro MA) too provides its packaging people with interesting work which helps the company retain them says Ray Bourque director of packaging. "We use packaging as a way to drive growth so it's a great place for a packaging person to work. We're big enough to invest in [big] capital projectso/oobut small enough so that a packaging engineer or manager can really influence the type of projects we undertake and receive a lot of credit and recognition." Another good practice for sustaining interest: Let them call the shots on their projects. In other words don't meddle. "Be tolerant of the way they do it" says Dick Blanchard director of packaging technology at United Distillers & Vintners in Hartford CT makers of Smirnoff Vodka. "If the way they do it achieves the objective but may not have been your way of doing it you need to overlook that for the fact that it got done on time and in a reasonable way." Blanchard cites the individual in charge of developing the firm's specialty packs as a specific example of letting a subordinate handle everything. "He takes the requests from the brand people goes out and does all the specs and samples and gets the approvals. He publishes a monthly report telling me how many he's done and what they were but I don't get involved in who he's dealing with or how he's handling it. He just kind of runs his own show." Project management at United Distillers & Vintners is similar says Blanchard. "We have teams here and the project manager from packaging will sit in on that team. He'll work with suppliers to get containers designed closures and labels too. If he needs my expertise we'll talk but he pretty much handles communications with suppliers. He'll review costs with me but other than that he's responsible for making it happen." In some companies such independence is fostered early on. Cincinnati OH-based Procter & Gamble challenges its entry-level packaging engineers just out of school: "The day people arrive they're given a real stand-alone assignment" says George Vernon director research and development corporate prototyping and package development. "When it's done it's something they can sign their name to and proudly say 'I did it.'" Vernon says this approach differs from other companies where entry-level engineers can spend their first six to 12 months in training. Or if they do work on a project "they're often working with another engineer and not positioned to do independent work" Vernon says. Placing packaging engineers in front of senior management to pitch presentations is a tactic that SmithKline Beecham uses to keep its engineers involved and invested says Angelo Scolieri director packaging and production technical services. He spoke about an upcoming planning session to which he's invited the company's vice president of manufacturing. "My entire department will handle the presentation not me" says Scolieri. "First of all the people above you get to know more about the value of your own group. And the people within the group feel good because they're interfacing with high-level people." Share the big picture Making presentations to top management is one thing but some companies try to get their packaging personnel to think like top management. And the only way to do that is to share mission-critical business information that would usually be shielded in traditional corporate structures. Take Dean Foods for example. "We give the incoming engineers a clear understanding of the entire business entity instead of keeping them in a little box where they design things but have no idea where it goes" says Carl Eitin director of packaging materials handling and facilities. "We share cost information the effect of the design customer base information" says Eitin. "I've talked to designers and engineers elsewhere who have no idea what happens to the packages they design. I think people feel much more comfortable knowing these things plus they feel good that you let them take responsibility. That's how it becomes a force for retention." At Stoneyfield Dairy in Londonderry NH the financials are in plain view of the engineers. "We have an incentive program where we identify and track all of the controllable expenses each month" says John Daigle vice president of operations. "It helps us understand waste scrap factors the cost of the utilities the cost of overtime etc. It gets right down to the profit and loss statement. It's kind of an open-book concept." Variety is the spice Other companies prevent burn-out by retreating from an assembly-line mentality when it comes to structuring the workload for packaging staffers. At Triarc Beverage Group White Plains NY each packaging manager gets involved in all phases of package design including structural design graphics prepressand managing press runs. "Some companies only allow their packaging people to do one function" says Mary Ellen Reis director of packaging. Respon<> sibility for the whole gamut of steps keeps her people invigorated involved and most importantly educated about all the different processes. That reduces the mistakes that can crop up when knowledge is highly compartmentalized within an organization. "For example don't design me a can with six colors I can't run it" says Reis rhetorically. "Or don't give me a can with a one-hundred and eighty-five-line screen because it won't print. I can only go down to an eighty-five-line screen." Maintaining a healthy mix of work is also a key to keeping packaging engineers involved at Glaxo Wellcome. "Packaging engineers work on new designs new components new packages new developments" says GW's Cohen. "They do project work and troubleshooting they work with all the marketing people." Packaging line operators can also benefit from variety in their work according to David Mackay director of packaging and maintenance at Torpharm a Toronto-based generic drug manufacturer. "I've worked in settings where an operator does the same thing day in and day out and you get zero creativity out of that. By having people move around the packaging line one operator may see room for process improvement that escaped the attention of others." On the other hand certain kinds of specialization can actually help packaging engineers. Consider the situation at Hershey: "The engineers are not required to do their own CAD work - we have support functions to help us with that" says Wade Latz. "We have other functions that support us with specialized high-speed construction coordination. There's an excellent support organization here." This type of specialization helps packaging engineers focus on engineering which is what they do best and what they find most interesting Latz adds. Cheering the team Several companies PW spoke with cited as a key motivator the involvement of packaging people on cross-functional teams for new product design. "On our product launch teams there is a packaging engineer a graphics person a regulatory person some marketing people QA people manufacturing people equipment engineers-all the inputs to this successful launch are on this team" says Cohen of Glaxo Wellcome. "As opposed to someone in marketing that says 'Here's everything' and just drops things on people." Indeed for some of the pharmaceutical company's new products packaging engineers don't just participate in the teams they lead them. "Our engineers typically lead line extension teams" says Bruce Cohen. "Since a product's already NDA approved when marketing wants a line extension one of my people typically leads that team." Teamwork is also important at SmithKline Beecham. "Our greatest strength is our ability to work together" says Scolieri. "I don't believe we're a bunch of superstars. But together I think we make a nice impact." Creating atmosphere Several packaging managers say they take pride in working for their respective companies and try to instill that pride in their packaging staff. But what happens if you aren't a Hershey or a Kraft or a Coca-Cola? The best way to create the atmosphere in which packaging people can thrive is for the company to take packaging seriously says Ray Bourque of Ocean Spray. "We are committed to packaging and packaging matters here" he says. "It's not just a second thought or a way to finally take a product to market. It is the product in many cases." At Triarc company executives starting at the very top also share a passion for packaging says Mary Ellen Reis. "Here they love packaging" she says. "They love getting into it learning about it they know all the terminology. They thrive on being informed. One of my toughest jobs is staying ahead of them. They get industry news much faster than I do sometimes and I get E-mails and little torn-out pages of magazines asking how did they do this how did this bottle get to be this shape printed like this and I have to answer. "I hear from people in packaging at other companies that they're very unhappy that people [in those companies] think 'Oh packaging who cares big deal. Marketing is just so much more important.' Well packaging is part of marketing but at some companies it's not part of marketing it's almost part of technical." Such an intensity attracts only those who will thrive in such an environment. "We have had people who have interviewed here and said no I can't do this it's not for me" Reis says. "It's not a typical structure. It's a Triarc speed-to-market extremely creative [approach]. There's never a bad idea. You can't limit yourself. It still is iced tea but if you put it in something different it's unusual iced tea."

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