Greiner Packaging…..It’s All About The People
When Dungannon company Greiner Packaging started to find it difficult to get the right people to work in its high-technology plastic packaging plant, it decided to take matters into its own hands.
The company, part of an international group with 35 manufacturing sites across Europe and the Americas, has designed and implemented its very own Greiner Gold Programme…..an advanced form of high level apprenticeship combining comprehensive in-house training with day release classroom sessions organised by local FE colleges.
A full four-year programme, it leads to a third level qualification and, crucially, means that participants are paid as full-time Greiner employees throughout the period.
“What we’re offering isn’t just normal jobs,” says Darryl McShane, Greiner’s Senior Operations Manager. “This is a professional programme which leads to a recognised qualification but it’s also an opportunity to come into engineering and manufacturing and make a real contribution right from the start.”
The first batch of five ‘graduates’ to come through the programme are already working in a variety of roles at the Dungannon plant, and others are in the process of coming through the system.
“It is a two-way process,” adds Pauline Hillen, HR Manager at the company. “Our participants get out of it what they put in. If they work hard and study hard, the rewards are definitely there for them. And every one of them enjoys the team ethos that we have here at Greiner.”
Still a family-owned company with its corporate headquarters in Austria, Greiner Packaging bought the locally-owned Wilsanco Plastics operation back in 2006 and established its Northern Ireland plant. The site manufactures a broad range of rigid plastic packaging for the food and non-food industries, turning out upwards of a billion pots every year for yoghurt, desserts and other products. It also manufactures various bespoke bottles to contain everything from soft drinks to grass seed.
Processes include thermoforming, extrusion, injection moulding, injection stretch blow moulding, extrusion blow moulding and IML technology…..the inclusion of a plastic label within the manufacturing process, most commonly using injection moulding, and resulting in an instant finished end product.
Greiner Packaging employs a team of just less than 220 staff in Dungannon (9,000 globally), and the Northern Ireland operation turns over £34.5 million, making it a sizeable business by most measures. Some 85% of its markets are dotted around GB with a further 10% in the Republic of Ireland. The past 10 years since the Wilsanco acquisition has seen a 138% increase in sales, 30% employment growth and a £27 million investment.
The company has achieved a strong reputation, and won awards, in two key areas. One is its commitment to staff training. The other is an impressive commitment to environmental measures.
At Greiner’s Dungannon plant, it’s certainly not a case of paying lip service to environmental credentials. Not only is the on-site warehouse heated by waste heat generated by the production process, but an Integrated College next door to the site is also fully heated all year round from the same source……an innovative move directly inspired by Greiner’s Northern Ireland Chief Executive Jarek Zasadzinski. It’s also a move that saves the school authorities an estimated £100,000 a year in heating oil bills.
And, on the other side of the equation, an innovative ‘Project Cool’ initiative reduced costs by 40% and led to the plant being cooled entirely by wind (….plentiful around the hills of Tyrone) rather than expensive air conditioning units, making full use of its hilltop site on the outskirts of the town. It’s an idea ‘borrowed’ from a Greiner sister plant in Switzerland.
The Dungannon plant is also proud of its position as the second most energy efficient plant in the European Greiner group (it was No. 1 until recently), and the company has received assistance over recent years from both Invest Northern Ireland and the Carbon Trust. Greiner believes in continual investment and, over the past couple of years, has embarked on an overhaul of facilities and infrastructure at the site.
But it’s the company’s approach to training and the establishment of the unique Greiner Gold Programme that is likely to make a lasting impact on its commitment to leading edge manufacturing. The first entrants started out on their programme back in 2011 with five ‘graduates’ completing their training in June of last year. A further six are on the course at the moment and six more are due to start this summer.
“People are our biggest assets,” says Pauline Hillen. “They always have been, but we became aware several years ago that we were having problems recruiting people with the skills that we needed. We had a few options, I suppose, but our answer was to tackle the problem ourselves…..to bring in talent and provide the training ourselves, with help from the further education sector.” “We’ve grown through the years. We’ve added new technology and new process,” adds Darryl McShane. “So we started to look in detail at how we could train people ourselves. It was a lengthy process, but one that’s been well worthwhile”
Darryl McShane himself left school at 17 and completed an ONC and HNC qualification at technical college while serving a traditional apprenticeship with Beverage Plastics in his home town of Lurgan. He went on to complete a degree in mechanical engineering at Queen’s University in Belfast before returning to the Lurgan company as a Design Engineer. He joined Greiner Packaging as Engineering Manager, later becoming Senior Operations Manager.
“So I know as well as anyone that the academic route simply isn’t for everyone, particularly those with an interest in engineering in any shape or form,” he adds. “Our Greiner Gold programme is perfect for people like that and it means that our recruits can work and earn money while they’re being trained. “We worked hard to design this programme and it covers everything from new product development to facilities management with everything else in between.
“But what it also delivers is significant benefits for our company as a whole. Our more experienced operators and managers act as mentors for the young people on the programme. It’s fair to say that some of them were a bit wary at first…..but now they love doing it, and we can see how the mentors gain benefits as well as the trainees.”
“Good recruitment is key,” says Pauline Hillen, whose department is responsible for recruiting all employees and leads the promotional and recruitment aspects of the programme, as part of the overall steering group.
“We look for six GCSE’s at Grade C or above or two A Levels, but more importantly, we’re looking for young people with an interest in technology and in what they can learn from us, and young people who can show some evidence of leadership.
“The Greiner Gold Programme has been a major investment for us as a company but there’s no doubt that it has helped to bring the Greiner name to the fore here in the mid-Ulster area, where there are a lot of big manufacturing companies in need of good people.”