Training and sustainability at forefront says leading Kiwi Plastics company

Recently, we sat down with Elastomer Products Ltd (EPL) CEO Mark Field who says a high value is placed on workplace training within his business.

He also shared with us some of the challenges EPL is overcoming, chief of which are supply-chain issues related to the COVID-19 pandemic and the global perception of the plastics industry, considered by many to be "the new smoking".

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Elastomer Products Ltd (EPL) CEO Mark Field says a high value is placed on workplace training within the business.

The company, based in Christchurch, has been designing and manufacturing polymer product solutions since 1974, for the horticulture, viticulture, construction, packaging, agriculture, marine and medical industries. Mark manages a staff of 51 spread across Christchurch and Auckland, plus 35 in EPL’s Thailand operation.

The major trades training undertaken at EPL are plastics manufacturing including extrusion, and engineering. Seeing his factory staff earn qualifications outside of their core work streams brings Mark enormous satisfaction.

“Learning additional skills and getting additional qualifications such as Health and Safety and Quality that might not directly related to someone’s day-to-day operation can give them broader career opportunities as well as bring a more diverse range of skills to our business.

“Training is also so important for the efficiency of the business,” adds Mark. “We train people to do the jobs we need. For example, we have put people on project management training courses so they can help us get projects to market quickly, create profitability and enable us to get on to the next job.”

Mark admits training has taken a back seat in the past two years, with the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic felt through the plastics industry and demanding priority.

“We lost a lot of business to China but that is slowly coming back now, which is positive. Supply of raw materials has been a huge challenge over the past two years – some materials that would normally take four weeks to arrive at EPL are taking ten months. The cost pressures are also making an impact. It’s been, and remains, a pretty tough environment.”

The plastics industry globally is considered by many as the “new smoking”. While vital in many aspects to people’s lives, Mark views the industry as having a responsibility to make sure it’s contributing to environmental sustainability and continually looking for ways to reduce our dependence on fossil fuels, looking at recyclable and biodegradable alternatives.

“Sustainability and environmental protection is very important to us as an industry. It’s not easy – trying to replace a highly versatile plastic like polypropylene with bio-based polymers, but we must make it our focus. We are doing a lot of work with our customers on sustainable product design, recycling (take back and reuse) and end of life. Perhaps in the future we will look at developing a new sustainability qualification with Hanga-Aro-Rau.

“The more efficient we are as a business, the better we can equip our staff to be more productive, and upskilling and workplace training is a large part of that.”