In his regular, exclusive column for BP&R, Philip Law, Director-General of the British Plastics Federation, announces news this issue of a new Education and Training Committee, dedicated to bridging the industry’s ever-worrying skills gap. He also shares his insight on the effect that EU-level legislative developments are having on the industry’s development and progress.
The BPF had a thunderous start to the New Year with the launch of its new Education and Training Committee. Chaired by BPF's former President, Philip Watkins, it represents a historic departure for the BPF. Traditionally, the BPF took the view that because dedicated, publically funded organisations existed vested with the responsibility to provide training, that training wasn't part of its remit. However, the fact that the skills gap has been pushed so far up the industry's agenda following on from the realisation that future growth depends on having the people who can create it, we felt that we had to act. Additionally, organisations such as Cogent really need the BPF's help to communicate with the large number of SME's in the sector who need to know the facilities available for creating apprenticeships under the recently announced Science Industry Partnership and how to access them. Cogent is a strong supporter of our move.
I recently attended a Department of Business Innovation and Skills Stakeholder Engagement Reception where Vince Cable announced that some two million apprenticeships had been created in the lifetime of the current Parliament. A young man saying that when his apprenticeship is finished he will end up with a degree in Aerospace Engineering illustrated an accompanying brochure. This is the issue for us. As an industry of SME's we have to make sure that we secure as much a slice of the funding cake as the industries of large firms with sophisticated HR and workforce development programmes.
Moving on now to an area where Government is somewhat less helpful to industry. In a presentation I recently recorded and showed at the Mexican industry plastics conference, 'Perspectivas' (held in Mexico City on February 9th) I concluded with some 'indications' I've observed in recent EU level legislative developments. Firstly is the gradual demise of the broad and, for us, helpful concept of 'sustainability' with its broad vision of ecological, economic and social factors. The emphasis is now on 'the circular economy'.
The second trend is the growing interest in EU institutions of direct discriminatory measures against plastics materials and products. This was manifested in the publication of a Green Paper on a European Strategy for Plastics Waste issued by the European Commission in 2013, the first time since the 1990's that a multi-material approach has been abandoned in favour of a policy directed at a particular material.
Thirdly, in the EU there is a growing struggle between the ambitions for economic growth, job creation in particular, and the aspirations for environmental perfection. This was recently illustrated by the withdrawal of a controversial 'circular economy package’ by the Juncker Commission following industry lobbying.
Fourthly there is an increasing struggle to find commonly acceptable standards to promote free trade in an EU now of 28 Member States with radically different economic and social bases.
An untoward development illustrating this was the EU's agreement in November to modify the Packaging and Packaging Waste Directive to allow Member States the option of laying down targets to reduce the use of lightweight plastics bags, make a charge or indeed place outright bans. This clearly militates against free trade in the EU, as we will inevitably end up with a patchwork quilt of unilateral arrangements. Very worrying indeed that even the principle of free trade in the EU is now being undermined albeit in a piecemeal way.
But on to business development and finishing on a on a brighter note, BPF led a successful trade show stand at the Plastindia Fair in Gandhinagar, Gujarat, on 5th- 10th February involving 11 companies. On 24th February we will be organising a seminar dedicated to troubleshooting for rotational moulders in Redditch (further information from BPF's Dr Sara Cammarano). Business life goes on!