Following approval by UK regulatory authorities, the Packaging Industry Awarding Body Company (PiABC) has been launched to “drive forward excellence in education and training throughout the industry”.

The move follows the first comprehensive “mapping” of the UK packaging sector – a joint-initiative by the Institute of Packaging and the Department of Industry – the results of which were announced last January. This showed that the industry employs some 250,000 people and has an annual turnover of £20-25 billion, nearly twice the size it was thought to be.

Once identified as a major player in UK plc, it became apparent to the government that the sector did not have a vocational qualification framework available to it and therefore could not demonstrate, by qualification, its competency. Nor did it have a mechanism by which it could develop its skill base.

This realisation enabled the IoP to work with the government to establish the awarding body which has developed a certificate and diploma in packaging. An NVQ and other relevant qualifications follow in 2004.

The work of the awarding body will be driven forward by Fred Hoyland, its chief executive, based at PiABC’s headquarters at the IoP’s Melton Mowbray offices. “We now have one body with one voice to develop and drive forward the education and training of this vital sector to the benefit of all the companies, the packaging professionals they employ and the profitability of UK industry”, said Hoyland.

“I urge all companies to consider becoming Corporate Members of PiABC to shape the future of our industry, to influence government and to draw down vital funding for workforce development”.

PiABC will be responsible for accrediting centres for the delivery of approved learning for the packaging sector in the UK and overseas and interest has already been shown from a number of institutions.

Meanwhile IoP has launched to provide e-learning courses to students worldwide. It says the online learning centre will offer students complete flexibility in their studies, as they can access the course from anywhere at any time.

Courses can also be co-branded with other organisations, such as companies, to provide tailor-made programmes that suit employer and individual needs as well as leading to a recognised qualification.

Students will be provided with regular tutor contact, a course text book, built-in tasks and assessment exercises and printable notes for each unit.

The IoP is already working with a number of countries throughout the Asia Pacific region, including China and India, to deliver an educational programme to a common standard. Institute chief executive, John Webb-Jenkins, commented: “The IoP is now poised to become the centre of excellence for educational training for the packaging industry, not only in the UK, but worldwide, and this is part of our mission for the future”.

The next stage of the ‘mapping’ procedure will be carried out in conjunction with the PPMA and cover packaging machinery manufacturers, designers and consultants.