Battle for Talent

From mechatronics engineer to managing director – such steep careers are possible in the packaging industry. But the industry is suffering from staff shortages. Companies that do not live New Work credibly have no chance of attracting talented young people.

A quick glance at Packaging Valley’s job portal is all it takes to make the extent of the shortage of skilled workers abundantly clear. The member companies in the Packaging Machinery and Automation Cluster are looking for masses of technical job profiles such as software technicians, service technicians, engineers and designers in the southwest of the republic alone. But other areas such as human resources, purchasing and IT also have countless vacancies. The issue of securing skilled labor has long been a top priority in the mechanical engineering sector up and down the country: in the German Engineering Federation (VDMA), with its approximately 3,500 member companies the largest network organization in the European mechanical engineering sector, the Food and Packaging Machinery Association is affected: “In our flash survey from the end of June, the issue of a shortage of skilled labor/demographics was ranked as the greatest risk among a total of eight major current challenges and was even named ahead of inflation/restrictive monetary policy,” explains Florian Scholl, Economics and Statistics Officer at the VDMA. “The survey also reveals the current level of concern and, unsurprisingly, the relatively pessimistic outlook for the short term.”

The shortage of skilled workers has reached a new high in Germany. From April to June, German companies were short almost two million workers – more than ever before. “Despite considerable risks of recession, the number of vacancies has continued to rise sharply,” reports Alexander Kubis of the Institute for Employment Research (IAB). From January to March, German companies had already sought more personnel than in any previous comparable period. In the second quarter, they reported almost 200,000 more vacancies.

Skilled workers desperately needed

“The term skilled workers is often too undifferentiated to describe the personnel requirements in commercial production companies in the packaging industry,” complains Christian Schiffers, Managing Director of the FFI Fachverband Faltschachtel-Industrie: “Of course, trained specialists are needed for production planning and monitoring as well as machine setting and guidance. In addition, however, there is also a shortage of helper personnel at the machines.” He cites a “possible lack of attractiveness” of the packaging industry as well as shift and weekend work as reasons for the shortage of workers. “Both have a detrimental effect already on trainee recruitment. In the helper sector, higher pay in other industries for unskilled workers could be a possible cause,” speculates Schiffers.

According to an analysis by the IAB, helpers in mechanical engineering earn an average of just under 3,000 euros – many times more than the 15 occupational groups with the lowest wages for skilled workers. According to the analysis, there are training occupations in which skilled workers earn a comparatively low gross wage, which can even be lower than the average wage for helper occupations overall. For example, in personal care (1676 euros) or in catering (1849 euros).

Demographic change and the trend toward higher educational qualifications are hampering many industries in recruiting new employees – and the packaging industry is no exception. Companies are competing for a small number of applicants. “At the same time, the negative reception of plastics and packaging in the media and society plays a role for us,” says Ingemar Bühler, general manager of Plastics Europe Germany. “We have not yet been sufficiently successful in credibly communicating to young people – trainees and students – how important plastics are on the way to a sustainable and climate-neutral society. Young applicants often look at our industry very critically and don’t consider it sustainable.”

Sustainable industry

So does the packaging industry have an image problem as an employer? Bühler adds, “Plastic packaging does indeed often have a reputation for harming the environment and endangering the climate.” This is often related to how consumers treat plastic packaging after use, he says. In addition, he says, it doesn’t help that currently large parts of the underlying production processes are still based on fossil raw materials. “The fact that the plastics industry has long been moving in the direction of climate neutrality and is making enormous efforts to achieve this, has not yet sunk in with many people.”

Hans-Georg Rottenegger from the management consultancy BGH Consulting even attests to a veritable communication problem in the packaging industry in this context. “Many young people don’t know that packaging machines are equipped with lots of electronics, hydraulics and pneumatics and thus offer an exciting field of activity. Plus, it’s a job in a crisis-proof and sustainable industry.” Most packaging, he said, is bio-based, protects many times its value and is also recyclable. This aespecially applies to packaging made of paper, cardboard and paperboard.

by Karen Gellrich

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