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By the Packaging Whistler

Picture the packaging people you know. Remember the last packaging event you attended. And now let us stereotype those working in our industry; male, balding on top with slight growth on the flanks, a shade overweight, bespectacled and nondescript shoes. Never a brogue or an Oxford. Ever. A fat Patrick Stewart (the Star Trek years, not the X-Men years) without the impeccable eyesight. Or, if I was to be (even more) impolite, Kyle Gass from the band Tenacious D. Look him up. Yep, he’s certainly one of us…

Now we have our standard bearing image for the industry, albeit in jest (“many a true word…”), we immediately find our issue. The industry is ageing (and male, but that discussion deserves its own piece), and not engaging with the future. I have a number theories for this, although can’t decide which is most relevant. My most favoured are:

1. Packaging tribalism – 'We don’t want anyone from outside our industry'.

2. Laudator temporis acti – The Latin for ‘praiser of past times’, referring of course to packaging industry leaders who laud the good old days. 'We have always done things this way'.

3. Inexperience = ignorance – the utter snobbery that exists in the industry suggesting that a lack of experience is permanent and as such an individual can never learn. Even though their extensive qualifications (more than yours) prove otherwise.

I can hear the groans from the naysayers reading this, those in denial that we have an age problem. Some companies do embrace younger people, but these are in the minority. Lack of company resource to train people and a lack of professional pathway from student to workplace are certainly issues which hinder matters. 

But the vast majority born into the world have a number of things in common, which is why the above excuses do not hold up under scrutiny. We breathe, drink, eat, sleep, bleed, communicate, think and all use packaging. It is the physical thing we interact with most in our lives. Children know how to open a lap sealed pillow bag of crisps, exploiting it’s weak seal points, and the same applies for snack bars. They also know how to unscrew a jar the correct way (anti-clockwise, in case you’re wondering), peel lidding film from a tray, identify secondary and tertiary packaging. You could argue that navigating through packaging to reach the food source is innate; modern day hunting perhaps.

It would therefore make sense to engage with these curious minds and take advantage of the head-start the industry has in attracting young people. 

Remember that today, the ‘millennial’ generation, brought up with the internet, social media and the technological revolution, has been bypassed by packaging. Production plants still use technology from the 1970s and 80s, offices still have fax machines and paperwork bursting out of drawers, and marketing is a word scoffed at even though the products we produce fully encompass it. Missed opportunities to develop.

Is it arrogance, ignorance or circumstance that prevent the average age of those in the packaging industry from decreasing? 

Cormac McCarthy writes: 'I tried to put things into perspective but sometimes you’re just too close to it', which I’d like to think is why this issue is so prevalent. Perspective is difficult to glean when in the midst of the problem, and with the multi-pronged war on packaging waging at the moment this is probably the last thing anyone is thinking about.

The war will end and the noise around eco-products will quieten down. By which time the young people that have not been targeted for our industry, and been scared off by sensationalist media fuelling the packaging war, will be elsewhere enjoying roles where their skills and aptitude have been embraced.

As we are left to embrace the fallout of another missed opportunity, another missed generation and another pair of nondescript shoes.


The Packaging Whistler shares important and pertinent events from within the packaging industry, with sources guaranteed anonymity. It serves to inform and remove any dissemblance, with a goal of outright transparency. To achieve this it shares information provided to it for the greater good.