Peter MacQueen, Principal Lecturer in Apprenticeships at Sheffield Hallam University, has called for immediate action to tackle the growing workforce crisis in the UK packaging industry.

As fewer young professionals enter the field, MacQueen emphasises the need to secure the industry’s future.

A critical shortage of skilled workers

“The UK packaging industry has a major issue in attracting, developing, and retaining its talent pipeline,” MacQueen stated.

“We need to get serious about a solution. The UK packaging industry is world-leading in many aspects, but what happens five, ten years down the line when we don’t have the workforce to deliver on that, particularly in the more specialised technical skills? We fall behind, and that’s a timebomb we need to defuse, and fast.”

MacQueen pointed out that the foundation of progress in the packaging industry is education.

 “There are very established programmes in the US and Germany that arm the next generation of packaging professionals with sector-specific skills and competencies, but we have lagged behind in the UK,” he said.

Sheffield Hallam’s approach

To address these challenges, Sheffield Hallam University offers the UK’s only dedicated packaging undergraduate degree apprenticeship course: the Higher Degree Apprenticeship Packaging Professional BSc.

This course, designed in collaboration with industry experts, covers a wide range of topics, including materials science, sustainability, supply chain management, business management, and legislative awareness.

This comprehensive curriculum aims to prepare graduates to meet both current and future industry demands.

“This is what makes Sheffield Hallam’s Higher Degree Apprenticeship Packaging Professional BSc course so pivotal in addressing these challenges; there’s nothing else available like it in the UK,” MacQueen explained.

Combining education with practical experience

The course, now open for 2024/2025 enrolment, features a work-based learning approach that allows students to combine academic study with practical work experience.

This model not only enhances student learning but also benefits the businesses they work for. Employers in England can use Apprenticeship levies to fund the course, making it a cost-effective investment in developing talent.

“We cannot risk taking our foot off the gas pedal because the packaging workforce crisis won’t resolve unless we get proactive. We’re at a critical juncture, and to keep the UK packaging industry at the global forefront, we must invest in education,” MacQueen urged.

“Our course, the only one of its kind in the UK, is designed with that in mind. It’s arming the next generation of packaging professionals to take us forwards. Places are limited to ensure every student can engage fully, so we invite packaging professionals and businesses to join us in shaping the future of the industry by enrolling.”