“There has been a shift in emphasis in food and drink packaging from functionality and quality to a greater focus on hygiene,” said Dr Liz Wilks, Asia Pulp & Paper’s (APP’s) European stakeholder director. “But while training for quality managers is available, there hasn’t historically been much at all for hygiene.”
She said: “The larger food manufacturing firms also take a keen interest in these issues, and typically might have one or two people – including packaging buyers – covering these concerns.”
In fact, the responsibilities of managers in these roles in converting and other packaging companies will often go even wider than this. “Increasingly, the role takes in quality, hygiene and environmental standards, and is often the catalyst for broader cultural change within an organisation,” she said. “If you look at the courses available, even globally, they don’t cover all these aspects.”
In part, the risk is to do with those people covering these duties today, Wilks explained. But, in part, it is to do with ensuring there is a talent pool for the future. “A lot of the people I see in these roles today are middle-aged men, which is great, but you also need a career pathway and a way for younger people to enrich their knowledge base and improve the way they do their job.”
She added: “If the people coming into these positions don't have a packaging background, how do you equip them for this role?”
Research for her doctorate looked at large as well as small-to-medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) in the packaging sector. Because compliance with standards worked on site level rather than corporate level, larger businesses could face the same challenges. She said: “Even where companies managed to achieve the required standards for compliance, the task would have been made much easier with better training.”
But in terms of building awareness of the issues, it was most important to reach out to SMEs in the industry, Wilks claimed.
Wilks is leading a new Master’s degree course in International Packaging at Cardiff Metropolitan University. The first module, which concentrates on compliance, is being piloted. While principally targeting auditors, it is also relevant to companies that want to understand how compliance is measured in the supply chain, she said.
Wilks is also on the British Retail Consortium’s (BRC’s) packaging consulting group.