Plastics policymaker appoints new Education & Skills Chair

Jo Davis, Managing Director of Dorking-based Broanmain Plastics, has been elected as the new Chair of the British Plastics Federation (BPF) Education & Skills Committee. As Jo prepares to host her first roundtable committee discussion in September 2023, she examines the future skills strategy that the BPF hopes will continue to stimulate economic growth and attract a new contingent of talent for UK polymer processors of all sizes.

The scale of the challenge cannot be underestimated. Particularly when considering that the UK plastics industry turns over £23.5bn annually, employing a manufacturing workforce of around 170,000 professionals, at all levels. All too familiar with the compounding issues of balancing growth with skills shortages, succession planning, investing in development and maintaining morale, Jo hopes that her experience will bring a fresh perspective to the BPF Skills & Education Committee.

From addressing the stigma that polymer engineering offers limited career pathways, to the corporate commitment required to invest in training and development, Jo, like many of her committee peers, is a staunch advocate of sharing best practice to address the skills shortfalls. “Culturally, the plastics industry is quick to adapt. The pandemic was testament to this. Yet, the recruitment and retention pain points for employers remain evident to all. Solving the skills shortages requires collaboration from across the entire industry stakeholder group.”

Participants in this BPF committee represent all aspects of its Membership. Comprising of training providers, awarding organisations, plastics processors and raw material suppliers, this spread enables the Committee to consider all the secondary, apprenticeship and technical educational needs, as well as a deeper appreciation on how to balance diversity and promote people from within their business.

Rather than focusing purely on apprenticeships, Jo is eager to expand the development framework to drive continuous learning and upskilling. “This can include recruiting from non-traditional labour pools, for example military engineers, as well as prioritising equipping existing personnel with transferrable new skills to support career progression,” explains Jo.

Pointing out that there’s no ‘one size fits all’ approach to bridge the skills gap, Jo cites how Broanmain, as an SME, successfully navigated this by supporting two of their Gen Z senior team with a blend of external course, mentoring and structured development programs. Now, apprentice Kamil is running the engineering department, while Monika is overseeing production. Both originally joined the company as temps in the assembly team.

Welcoming Jo as Committee Chair, BPF Public and Industrial Affairs Manager Mohamed Elkhalifa added: “In reality, the plastics industry needs people with a whole range of skill sets, from STEM backgrounds to pragmatic thinkers, artistic and creative talents, to financial and quality assurance professionals. All these skills today are highly valued but may not be considered naturally adjacent to a plastics processing environment. As an industry we must continue to influence and change this workplace narrative.”