Thirty years ago, when I first entered the medical device manufacturing world, I was warmly welcomed by the engineers supporting the sterile packaging operations and design functions. They spent time teaching me – they had the time to teach me. They had me do things that had become mundane to them, but were new and exciting to me. I was allowed to “fail” and not know things – there was time to learn and they didn’t give me anything that could have significantly impacted either the design of or manufacture of the medical devices we made. They allowed me to grow in knowledge over time, giving me more and more autonomy as I grew, such that at the end of my time there, I was a fully functional packaging engineer. I fell in love.
What I didn’t realize at the time is how special that experience was and how much it would come back to me throughout my career. Rarely a week goes by still today that I do not think back on something I learned during those early years that comes into use now – and not always just the technical aspects, but the human aspects as well.
Fast forward a few years…Over the last 5-10 years, when I first started hiring engineers, I realized that my learning experience had become somewhat of an anomaly in industry. I also noticed that:
the organizations I worked for didn’t have on-site sterile packaging lines, testing capabilities, or sealing equipment; this has become even more apparent since coming to DuPont, where I get to meet a wide variety of medical device manufacturers;
the senior packaging team members did not have a lot of time to help newer (or off-site) engineers learn the ropes – because package engineering departments are often very lean, the senior members (if there) were already over-allocated and did not have time; and
the only books available were 20 years old – with much information still true, but some not – with no way for junior people to know the difference, causing me to realize that I had forgotten what I once didn’t know to be able to verbally share with them.
It was trial by fire for the junior engineers in a space where failure was not an option – these junior engineers had to know what they needed to know quickly and I had no great means of getting them there.
At first, I only had my personal experience indicating that there was a problem in ushering these young professionals into industry, and it made me sad that I had no way to fully support and them in a way that would allow them to fall in love with it, the same way I had.
In 2017, I started socializing and validating the need for something “more” with respect to ushering young professionals into the industry – technically and professionally. I noticed at industry events, that:
while I got to see all the people I’ve grown up with, we could potentially be an intimidating crowd to try to break into. Not because we are exclusionary, but more because there are so few opportunities for us to gather as a community, that when the opportunity arises, we spend much of the time catching up with each other – not always making the effort to be more inclusive and inviting to the junior professionals;
those that I had grown up with and I were no longer the “young” ones – that we were the senior leaders (gasp!). I can remember how intimidated I had been as a young professional attending industry events for the first time, when everyone seemed to know each other and worked cohesively together (it seemed almost scary to approach them!);
the industry colleagues I had grown up with and I were also closer to the end of our careers than the beginning and it didn’t seem like there were a lot of younger professionals coming in to take our place.
It also occurred to me that there is nothing “sexy” about medical device packaging (when looking at it from a “just coming out of school” perspective) – we can’t go to the store and point out the packaging we designed and show our friends and family, but the catch is –once you realize that what we do contributes to saving people’s lives, it is near impossible to not fall in love with it, for what could be more rewarding than that?