One of the most famous lines in modern movies (The Graduate) is when Mr. Robinson takes Dustin Hoffman aside at his college graduation party and offers him some career advice, which was one word, “PLASTICS”. Unfortunately, Dustin Hoffman’s character spent the summer having an affair with Mrs. Robinson so we will never know if he followed Mr. Robinson’s advice and made plastics his career. Plastics is the fourth largest manufacturing industry in the United States and probably China (if anyone has any numbers to prove me right or wrong please email me) but it remains a distant career choice for most people in the United States, including many who have actually entered the plastics industry. In my role as a third party technical recruiter for the plastics industry, most candidates tell me they kind of fell into plastics.
Currently, there are several good colleges for training engineers (and hopefully future managers) to enter the exciting world of plastics manufacturing; Ferris State University, The University of Massachusetts, Lowell, Pittsburg State University, Penn State University, and Ball State University. One advantage of these schools is that the curriculum does not have the entry level emphasis in Mathematics and the Sciences that most of the major universities use to weed out engineering schools. These schools actually want students to graduate and the math and science is included in the plastics curriculum. Not everyone has the math aptitude that engineering schools such as MIT, Purdue, Georgia Tech, The University of Michigan, Stanford or any of the other major engineering schools expect of their entry level engineering students, but most of these students still have exceptional mechanical, and electrical aptitude that is sorely needed in the plastics industry.
Recently I attended the National Plastics Exposition in Chicago in order to stay current on plastics equipment and manufacturing processes. Fortunately, I was able to find (not easy, it was well hidden) and stop by the Ferris State University booth to talk to Robert Speirs who is the Department Chair for the Ferris State Plastics Engineering Technology National Elastomer Center. At a time when many Engineers with IT related degrees cannot find jobs, nearly every graduate from Ferris State receives 3 job offers and companies are very disappointed that they cannot hire more plastics engineers. Many of the engineers I place in the plastics industry come from India and China where they have a strong emphasis on more vocational (less theoretical) engineering training. If you think Ferris State University (located in Michigan) might be for you, you can contact the school at www.Ferris.edu/plastics. Companies that recruit from Ferris State University includes; General Electric, Johnson Controls, Visteon, Parker Hannifin, Delphi, Federal Mogul, etc.
I realize most recent High School Graduates have already chosen their colleges but if things don’t go as well as hoped, or you find that traditional engineering is not really for you, consider plastics engineering. The plastic engineering schools will welcome you with open arms.