While Planning for the Future, Plastics Became the Plan

July 26, 2021

Justin Houck “stumbled” into the plastics industry and hasn’t looked back. He recommends plastics to anyone exploring career options. “While perhaps not being on your radar industry-wise,” he said, “there are plenty of opportunities in plastics, an industry that offers great stability even in challenging times.”

As Justin Houck approached the end of his M.S. program in Engineering Design & Innovation at Northwestern University, he started looking around for product development opportunities in manufacturing. “I stumbled upon one in the flexible packaging industry as a product development engineer with Ampac in Chicago,” he said. “Honestly, both plastics and packaging were a bit foreign to me prior to joining Ampac.”

Taking that job brought Justin into an industry he recommends to anyone exploring career options. “While perhaps not being on your radar industry-wise,” he said, “there are plenty of opportunities in plastics, an industry that offers great stability even in challenging times.” As just one example, Justin points to the way the plastics industry has thrived as it played an important role in helping people through the COVID-19 pandemic.

Justin’s career journey eventually brought him to Printpack, a flexible and specialty rigid packaging manufacturer with 19 plants across the U.S. and Mexico. His first five years with the company were spent as a research engineer in Atlanta. In 2018, he transitioned into his current role as an account manager, based in St. Paul, Minnesota.

Though still early in his career, Justin can already point to a rich string of rewarding experiences. “I’ve met many great people,” he said, “both within the organizations I’ve worked for and in the larger plastics network. And my roles have given me the opportunity to live in several cities and travel both domestically and internationally to places I would likely have never visited otherwise.” 

Justin has also benefited from an opportunity to gain perspective beyond just the packaging world, developing an appreciation of the diverse use of plastics throughout various applications and industries.

Among the benefits Justin enjoys at Printpack is membership in PLASTICS, which introduced him to Future Leaders in Plastics (FLiP), a professional development committee for plastics professionals under the age of 40. “It has been great networking with peers in similar roles and stages in their careers,” Justin said. “It’s a chance to focus on the impact we, as the younger generation, can have on the future of the plastics industry.”

Justin is equally happy about the opportunities FLiP offers for personal growth. “I’ve been involved in the Continuing Education Task Group over the last couple of years,” he said, “and appreciate the direction we’ve taken in focusing on personal and professional development.” He made specific mention of benefitting from the FLiP speaker series, as well as the group’s regular book club meetings. “The book club,” he said, “is a great way to explore more content from the books that are selected and engage in good discussion with fellow FLiP members on the various topics.”

Particularly beneficial for Justin was the FLiP Mentorship Program, in which he was paired with Bill Beaulieu of Chevron Phillips Chemical. “It was a good experience connecting with someone outside my own organization who had multiple roles throughout his career.” At that time, Justin was a research engineer at Printpack and considering other career paths within the organization. “It was quite timely,” he said, “to have someone with whom I could discuss my longer-term career goals and potential immediate moves.” Shortly after participating in the mentorship program, Justin moved into his current role and relocated from Atlanta to St. Paul.

Part of a generation that grew up in a digital world, Justin is very aware of the increasing impact the average consumer can have via social media platforms, particularly younger people. “They have a high sense of social awareness,” he said, “and are often driven by causes that are not in favor of plastics.”

Asked for his opinion on a solution, Justin said, “I feel the key is for those within the industry, and others in favor of plastics, to express empathy for the concerns of those who oppose plastics and work collaboratively with them on more sustainable solutions.” He added that such opportunities for collaboration and discussion will give the industry a chance to show detractors just how important plastics are to society.