“Our Industry is Sexy”

In the Packaging Valley network, member companies join forces to do everything they can to recruit, qualify and retain employees. In an interview, chairwoman Sabine Gauger talks about the shortage of skilled workers in the packaging sector, career opportunities and the appeal of „Made in Germany“.

Good personnel are extremely difficult to come by. What are the reasons for the shortage of skilled workers in the packaging industry?

Since the shortage of skilled workers affects many industries, this question is not easy to answer. But certainly demographic change is a big driver. Advancing digitalization is also contributing to the shortage of skilled workers. Especially in packaging machinery manufacturing. New job profiles are emerging that require distinctive expertise and different types of qualifications that many employees do not have. Competition adds to this because other industries are also looking for bright minds. Well-educated and educated workers in high-demand industries can often pick and choose their jobs. They don’t take the first offer that comes along, but are selective. In the highly globalized IT industry in particular, medium-sized companies are competing with international competitors and sometimes lose out.

Which companies are finding it particularly difficult?

All companies are suffering from a very tight applicant market. Companies in metropolitan areas are having a particularly hard time. When I think of our members in the Stuttgart area, the competitors for bright minds and talent are Daimler, Bosch or Stihl. On the other hand, it is also not easy for companies in rural Hohenlohe to attract skilled workers when transport accessibility is difficult or the cultural and leisure offerings are less hihly developed. In Germany, packaging often hits the headlines, with plastic in particular being blamed for environmental pollution.

Does your industry have an image problem?

That may play a role, although it is certainly not fundamentally justified. In addition, sustainable concepts have been emerging in the packaging machinery sector for some years now, in cooperation with our customers. Working on this is a meaningful and challenging task for a more sustainable future. More and more companies and their customers have recognized this and are taking advantage of the opportunities. This is precisely why we need the right skilled workers. The complaints about the shortage of skilled workers are getting louder and louder.

But are companies creative enough in finding and retaining skilled workers?

Companies have recognized that efforts need to be stepped up once again in view of the tight market. and they are doing so with a great deal of creativity. This includes flexible working time models, family-friendly working time arrangements, opportunities for further training, but also measures in company health management. The bouquet of options is colorful and lush. In view of the personnel bottlenecks, foreign specialists are now being called upon to do the job.

What opportunities does globalization offer for the labor market?

German companies are often a very attractive and lucrative option for talented people abroad. „Made in Germany“ is regarded worldwide as a guarantee of quality and good corporate organization. The freshly hired employees in the foreign location „learn“ how to work with the German managers from the headquarters already in their home countries and their area of responsibility is expanded step by step. As the next stage, a three- to five-year assignment to Germany together with the family can provide a very good start to professional life for young specialists and managers. In this context, intercultural cooperation and competence are very important. Good and successful cooperation is only possible with the appropriate knowledge and management style. We also want to continue to support our member companies in this respect by offering appropriate knowledge transfer.

The German government is planning to amend the Skilled Workers Immigration Act, which has been in force since 2020. The influx of qualified specialists from third countries is to be made even easier. Is the packaging industry feeling a positive effect from the FEG or even now from the refugees from Ukraine?

In the past, we have not yet been able to benefit from the FEG. As far as the Ukrainian refugees are concerned, it depends on the qualifications of the people, of course. But mostly it fails because of the language barrier.

Back to the domestic offspring. Would you say that in your industry, training is a matter for the boss?

When it comes to importance, definitely. Training and continuing education are very important in Packaging Valley and are vital to the company’s existence. What is also noticeable is that there is low fluctuation in the companies and in-house careers are very common. It is not uncommon to see resumes that go from trained mechatronics engineer steeply in the direction of manager, even managing director positions. Since many years of know-how are absolutely essential and practical experience irreplaceable, a dedicated specialist can take advantage of very good career opportunities.

You act as the patron of the Marketing Working Group. What synergies can you leverage together with AK Personal + Weiterbildung on the subject of securing skilled workers?

In the future, it will be even more important than in the past to show that Packaging Valley is a real valley of career opportunities, that working in a technologically dynamic and innovative environment is promising, and that it is easier to climb the career ladder at our medium-sized companies than at some large corporations. In other words, doing employer marketing for the entire industry will become one of Packaging Valley’s future tasks. Our initiatives such as the Makeathon, PR measures and participation in recruiting fairs are already important building blocks, but in the future they will have to be geared much more strongly to showing that our industry as a whole is „sexy“ for career starters and skilled workers. Dr. Marc Funk, one of the two Packaging Valley managing directors, is actively talking to the HR managers of our member companies in the HR working group to jointly explore new topics.

by Karen Gellrich