Government thinking and policy is now very much geared towards the concept of a knowledge economy whereby commodity products are not a priority activity but are best left to low cost emerging areas where cost of labour, cost of compliance and, very often, cost of raw materials are lower.

The objective for developed countries should be to add value and develop products which are in some way unique or niche and not amenable to high volume production.

The increased margin on such products justifies the lower volume targets.

But to do this requires a skilled workforce. Already in the UK a number of areas have been identified as lacking skills compared to the EU, Canada and US.

The only cure for this is an increased availability of education and training facilities and the IoP has for a long time been working to develop such a capacity.

In the last few months, a number of things have come together, which are the first steps in achieving the stated goal of being the centre of excellence for education and training in the packaging industry.

First, the DTI funded mapping exercise was completed and this, for the first time shows where industry is concentrated, what size it is and what its training needs are.

The establishment of SEMTA, the sector skills council that involves packaging, allows the development of educational standards right across the industry, from NVQ1 to post graduate.

In parallel, PIABC – the Packaging Industry Awarding Body Company – has been set up as a division of the IoP, following accreditation by the relevant regulatory authorities.

PIABC will ensure that the educational modules available from the IoP can be delivered countrywide in colleges and other educational centres so that there will always be a centre offering packaging training near you. Later this year, this will be augmented by the availability of the same material on-line.

Finally, companies are offered the opportunity of corporate membership of the awarding body.

Such membership offers companies the opportunity to be involved in the development of education and training within the packaging industry, direct access to government on all matters of training and also of other matters which vitally affect the profitability of UK industry.

John Webb-Jenkins is chief executive of the Institute of Packaging