The IoP is aware of the international dimension of the packaging industry. The organisation is working with Itene, the Spanish packaging institute, and NVC from the Netherlands to develop the European diploma, with the help of funding from the EU's Leonardo da Vinci scheme.
"Our aim is to develop a recognised qualification in three countries that will form the basis of a standard Europe-wide qualification," Gordon Stewart, IoP's head of education, training and development told FoodProductionDaily.com. "In addition to ourselves, United Biscuits in the UK, Kraft in Holland and Loughborough University are also participating."
Food processors should be especially aware of this development. Over 70 per cent of those on IoP course come from the food and drink sector.
There will, of course, be difficulties along the way. It might prove tricky to establish accreditation in every European country and language might prove to be a barrier. However, Stewart points to IoP ties made in China as evidence that globalisation is an inevitability, and that packaging is a part of this process.
"We are working with China to develop a training programme," he said. "And in Australia, we are developing a course specficially designed to deal with legislation over there. And our online course can be accessed throughout the world."
However, there is a general acceptance at the Institute that the packaging industry must do more not only to promote the interests of the industry but also to attract graduates into the sector. IoP chief executive Lynda Purser used her speech at Total 2004 to outline how the institute can help to create a more vibrant industry.
"We need to be of critical importance to the packaging industry, and to be the choice of the industry," she said. "The problem is that our income has not balanced expenditure. There are perhaps 250,000 people in the UK connected to the packaging industry, and we are touching maybe one per cent of them."
Stewart agrees. "We have a international reputation and we work all over the world," he said. "But our weakness is that we are a small organisation, with a limited impact on the industry. we are strong in some pockets, but non-existent in others."
Of particular concern is the fact that this membership base is heavily biased towards those who have already stopped work, or are about to. The Institute acknowledges the difficulty of recruiting graduates, but believes that this is where the future of the institute - and the industry - lies.
"We are not getting people at the start of their careers," IoP's Helen Chambers told FoodProductionDaily.com. "Next academic year, there will be 160 full-time courses in the UK with packaging-related disciplines. But our student membership remains poor."
As a result, the Institute has launched a policy to make it easier for graduates to join as affiliates. No qualifications are required for quick entry level membership, and the IoP offers a free assessment of each candidate to assess what level they can move onto.
"There is an opportunity here," said Stewart. "The packaging industry has perhaps the fewest qualifications available for its size. We therefore have the chance to expand our learning."