I know a few of my seniors in PPT who went on to do (or are currently pursuing) an MS. As I understand it, there are 3 universities in USA that offer a post graduate course that PPT students are eligible for. Last year, when I was making a decision between doing an MS or an MBA, I happened to see the syllabus of some of these courses. I noticed that quite a few of the subjects are already covered in our current engineering syllabus. It got me thinking, when I do return or apply for a job after completing an MS, my potential employer will ask me during my job interview why I spent so much money and two years of my life to study subjects that I already should have studied during graduation. And I couldn’t come up with anything in response to this. The fact is, most of what we need to know theoretically, is covered under the existing syllabus. The rest needs to be learnt on a more hands on basis or through a specialization course/ training program, preferably a few years into your first job so you have a distinct idea of what your true calling is. It could be Food Packaging or Pharmaceutical Packaging, or Security Printing or Production Management, etc.

There’s no way to make a fully informed decision on that now. So excluding the tiny percentage of students every batch who genuinely want to pursue a career in research, doing an MS right after a BE in PPT makes very little sense, as I see it. The same is not true for other streams. Take electronics for instance – there are thousands of electronics engineers being churned out each year from all over India. As a subject there’s far more scope for further studies in Electronics than there is in PPT (at least more than enough so subjects don’t get repeated). Compared to the thousands of electronics and computer and IT and telecomm graduates churned out, only a few 60-70 PPT engineers are produced each year. Instead of letting that stand in our way, how about we make it our strength? Why not brand ourselves as a niche crop of specialists that only one college in all of Asia generates? It’s a long shot, but definitely within the realms of possibility.

One thing I never quite understood was why we restrict ourselves only to packaging or printing companies for jobs. Every major FMCG company has a packaging division. As specialist degree holders, we should be heading these departments. Yet, none of these companies seem to be hiring PPT students, a sector badly awaiting exploration. It’s easy to believe that the problem lies in our poor communication skills. This excuse is as irrelevant as it is inaccurate.

PPT engineers can seek employment in almost every sector. Packaging is required everywhere. With focus on the Food Industry because, food by its nature will need packaging even 100 years from now. This is a sector that is immune to recession, inflation or any other form of economic threats. Look beyond small family owned set-ups that produce bottle caps. Aim for Walmart, or Future Group, or Nestle, or Kraft Foods. Aim for MTR, ITC, Parle, Britannia. And aim for the job of the Manager of the Packaging Division.

Getting back to the placement situation, and in conclusion, a point worth noting is that all major companies today are looking to reduce their total waste output and carbon footprint. We need to see this as an opportunity and a calling card for PPT engineers. We can brand packaging engineers as innovators who are capable of reducing the total waste and plastic requirement of a company by coming up with ideas and designs to reduce waste and material requirement. This will not happen unless it’s included as a subject in our curriculum, perhaps “Effective Packaging Design” or “Waste Reduction Solutions”. In a day and age where taking care of the environment and cutting costs by using as less packaging material as possible is a priority, it is an opportunity that could potentially change the landscape of our department. We’re already doing it; we study EVS and organize workshops.

It’s time to take this idea to the next level. To slowly and surely orchestrate a makeover for the PPT department as a producer of engineers who are equipped to save fortunes for whichever company and whichever industry they become part of. If we are able to successfully implement this, packaging engineers will earn a reputation of being indispensible to their respective organizations. This is the game changer we need. It needs to start at SE and by the time a student has completed BE, he/she should have had at least one idea that could save a company millions either in packaging material or a design that is less environment taxing than its predecessor or a technology that changes waste into money. This is the need of the hour. If we are able to provide this, big FMCG companies will be at our doorstep looking to hire as many PPT engineers as they can get their hand on. In a few years time, PPT engineers could be the most sought after assets the industry needs. Coupled with better communication skills (I realize, this is not going to be an overnight transition) we could be unstoppable. This environment angle is a potential goldmine.