Our company was asked to provide input on a couple of questions by one of the Editors of a well known plastics magazine because he is going to interviewed at the 2009 NPE Show. Since, I don’t really expect our answers to the questions to be published, I thought I would share them with the readers of this blog.
a) Is it a good time to embark on a plastics career? and
b)What are the areas of job growth in the plastics industry?
One of the best reasons to embark on a plastics career is that plastics will continue playing a large role in our lives. Existing uses of plastics will continue to expand as companies seek to extend product reliability, reduce component weight, and improve energy efficiency. Meanwhile, new use for plastics will grow as emerging technologies, such as nanomaterials and biopolymers, create new applications for plastic materials.
Unfortunately for United States manufacturers, domestic labor costs and the recent economic downturn have driven much of the traditional plastics business overseas. As a result, many plastic manufacturing and molding companies have been forced to cut their staffs in recent years. Nonetheless, job growth in the United States based plastics industry will eventually rebound as novel uses of plastics materials and innovative approaches to plastic processing are developed. Economic growth will follow as designers find new ways to utilize the ever-increasing capabilities of plastics into everyday products.
When plastic manufacturing picks up, even modestly, companies will once again add technical and management personnel. However, they will be looking for employees who are familiar with recent developments in plastics manufacturing. In an effort to stay small and nimble, plastics companies will seek out individuals who can wear a great many hats and feel very comfortable doing so. They will need people who can work closely with customers, possibly working on the customer’s factory floor to develop new products and manufacturing methods. By embarking on a plastics career now, you will be ready when the economy turns around. This pattern has repeated itself in the past, and there is no reason to believe that it won’t happen again.
A plastics engineer must have strong expertise in equipment operation and die design, and must possess a strong knowledge of plastic materials. There is less time available for individuals to develop technical expertise through on-the-job-training, so attending a college or university with recognized technical training in plastics is more important than ever.
Highly creative thinkers are needed who can take two or more seemingly unrelated ideas and blend them into a new product or process. Perhaps you can envision a disposable scalpel that fits comfortably in a surgeon’s hand and is still inexpensive enough to be thrown away after use. How about an automobile hood that reduces vehicle weight while acting as a solar panel?
The point is that the plastics industry needs new product ideas and manufacturing methods more than ever.
In spite of the current slowdown in manufacturing, this is definitely a good time to embark on a plastics career. Many of the people downsized in the plastics industry over recent years will not be returning. They will have changed careers or retired. Some will have started new plastics businesses, thus creating more openings. The plastics industry is constantly growing and changing, thus providing challenges that you may find quite rewarding. Now is the time to prepare for the next wave of advances in plastics manufacturing.