From Sideline Reporter to Family Business Builder

April 20, 2022

Translation isn’t a job that springs immediately to mind when you think about the plastics industry but, according to Hannah Coombs, that’s how she spends her days as Talent Development & Marketing Manager for Westminster Tool in Plainfield, Connecticut.

Translation isn’t a job that springs immediately to mind when you think about the plastics industry but, according to Hannah Coombs, that’s how she spends her days as Talent Development & Marketing Manager for Westminster Tool in Plainfield, Connecticut.

“I’m a translator,” Hannah said, “I help individuals communicate with training on the shop floor for half the day and spend the second half translating our story to our customers, followers and our community.”

Putting the complexities of manufacturing into understandable terms is nothing new to Hannah. She started out as a journalist writing for manufacturing trade magazines at Gardner Business Media. Eventually, she found herself writing about composites, additive manufacturing and various other operations in the plastics industry. “Gardner exposed me to a wide variety of manufacturing technology,” Hannah said.

It’s knowledge that serves her well in her current role. In 2020, she made the move to Westminster, her family’s business, where she has, among other things, helped revamp the company’s internal training program and worked on digital rebranding.

Hannah’s work has also, in a way, revamped her personal life. “I used to sit on the sidelines of a lot of production facilities, writing about them,” she said. “Now, working directly with people on the shop floor, I can honestly say the lean concept has transformed my life. Going through six sigma and embracing continuous improvement even made an impact on how I function outside of the office.”

The importance of mentors and colleagues

Learning has always been a big part of Hannah’s career path, and she credits two great mentors. “Kate Hand at Gardner, aside from being an incredible person, taught me about setting goals, successful negotiation and following what I’m passionate about,” Hannah said. “She taught me so much about rising in a professional world, how to think and act strategically, and how to bring meaning and purpose to your work.”

The second mentor in Hannah’s life is her sister, Hillary Thomas, Vice President at Westminster Tool. “Hillary taught me how to bring balance and self-reflection to difficult conversations and professional conflicts. She prepared me for anticipating obstacles in my career and how to navigate them with ease and confidence.”

Hannah is also enjoying the support and camaraderie that comes with Westminster’s membership in PLASTICS, which introduced her to Future Leaders in Plastics (FLiP), a professional development initiative for plastics professionals under the age of 40. “I’ve been a FLiP member for two years now, and one of my favorite benefits is the time dedicated to think creatively and strategically about your career,” she said. “It’s getting harder to schedule time to step back from the day-to-day to-do list and think about long-term career goals. It’s even more valuable to discuss these goals with people outside your company, with likeminded young professionals facing the same challenges and dilemmas.”

An ambassador for the industry

Having a family connection to the plastics industry, Hannah has always been aware of everything the industry has to offer, and she is eager to share the benefit of that knowledge with other young people seeking careers. “The number one reason to consider a career in plastics today is that career entry is more accessible than ever,” she advises. “Access to design, engineering or machine operation certifications are becoming more and more affordable. Community colleges and other workforce initiatives are getting more funding to make technical training available to anyone interested, regardless of your skill or education background.”

Like every other dedicated professional in the plastics industry, Hannah has her concerns about the reputation of plastics in society. “The challenges faced by the plastics industry today are the same ones it faced decades ago, finding skilled labor and debunking negative misconceptions about our work,” she said. With regard to skilled labor, she added, “The industry still has a long way to go in opening up the pool for recruitment and I think that introducing more diversity on the shop floor can help.”

As for misconceptions about plastic, Hannah is optimistic that environmental awareness in the marketplace will eventually help in telling the story of plastic as a safe, sustainable material. “I think a lot more companies are taking environmentalism seriously as a strategic initiative and as a way to positively promote their business,” she said. “New technology with bio-based polymers, recyclable material, sustainable production practices and even additive manufacturing are transforming the way the public looks at the plastics industry. More plastic companies are seeing the value of that and making it a business initiative.”

PLASTICS and the Future Leaders in Plastics (FLiP) Committee are devoted to supporting and encouraging the next generation of plastics leaders who will play a crucial role in the innovation, technology and future of the plastics industry. FLiP’s mission is to provide young professionals under the age of 40 the exposure, education and resources they need to build lifelong careers in plastics. Want to join? Want to get your employees involved? Email: [email protected]