The UK packaging industry owes a large debt to the IoP for providing the impetus which ultimately instigated the 'mapping' exercise of the industry. Before the results were published earlier this year, packaging activities as a grouping only really raised a blip on the government's radar when environmental issues were being discussed.
Now, rather belatedly, the government realises it would be foolish to ignore a £20 billion plus activity and has, again in consort with the Institute, set in place an awarding body which will "develop, administer and monitor" vocational qualifications in the industry.
As a result, both those involved in packaging and the government itself will benefit from the competitive advantages of having a consistently trained, motivated workforce.
For companies involved in the packaging sector this will be particularly welcome news, as funding will be available to offset the costs of training, creating a win-win situation.
And the Institute? Well the good news for them would seem less evident. The IoP has been providing education programmes in one form or another since its inception in 1947, with its Diploma in Packaging Technology becoming an 'industry standard'.
However, some five years ago it concluded that the Diploma should evolve and take its place within a national framework, and so embarked on what might appear to be a self-sacrificing road to poverty and loss of status – the relinquishing of its grip on packaging education.
“Far from shrinking into relative obscurity, the Institute intends to swap its role as an (almost) monopolist supplier of packaging education to the UK and become the Centre of Excellence for Education and Training for the packaging industry worldwide”
The reality, however, is a little different from that. Far from shrinking into relative obscurity, the Institute intends to swap its role as an (almost) monopolist supplier of packaging education to the UK and become the Centre of Excellence for Education and Training for the packaging industry worldwide. The primary vehicle for this is Learnpackaging.org.
It will, of course, still provide a variety of courses presented in the traditional manner, including the certificate and diploma which have been accredited as suitable for the national framework. However, the IoP does not yet qualify for government funding to run the courses, as other institutions will, which naturally puts it at a disadvantage.
This is, therefore, a brave move, but the formalisation and expansion of packaging education will ultimately benefit the industry as a whole, which shows both foresight and selflessness – not something one could say about all professional institutions.
More good news comes in the form of the plans to extend the mapping exercise, with the help of the PPMA, to packaging machinery manufacturers, designers and consultants.
Why they were not included in the first place remains a mystery, but at least they should now receive the recognition they too make to the industry and economy.