Phoenix Challenge Celebrates Flexo Education Milestones
Every spring, flexographic printers and industry suppliers converge on the Flexographic Technical Association’s Forum and INFO*FLEX. But for the 10th year, before the conference sessions and exhibitions open, college students from throughout North America will be showcasing their flexographic skills for a panel of industry expert judges.
The Phoenix Challenge Foundation, a North Carolina-based organization that promotes flexographic education, hosts two competitions each year. The College Competition, which is celebrating its 10th anniversary, is held the day before the FTA Forum in the event’s host city. The High School Competition, now in its 20th year, is a 2.5-day flexo printing competition featuring high school programs from across the country.
packagePRINTING spoke with Bettylyn Krafft, chairman of the Phoenix Challenge Foundation, about the exciting events ahead in 2017.
packagePRINTING: When you look back on the past 10 years of the Phoenix Challenge College Competition and 20 years of the High School Competition, what are you most proud of?
Bettylyn Krafft: When you look back on the different years, you see students that are now working in our industries, whether it be inks or plates, or maybe they’re in sales or engineering. There is a diversity of kids that have gone through the program and the jobs they have been able to achieve. For some it’s because they were in the Phoenix Challenge and for others, it’s because they were exposed to the Flexo in Education curriculum. There are some that start in high school and go on and do the College Competition, either as an undergraduate or a graduate student. It’s really cool to see them making a difference. They’re now speaking at FTA events and they are accomplished.
pP: How has the College Competition evolved over the past 10 years?
BK: The kids are given a prompt of something they need to achieve and they have a full year to achieve whatever it may be. This year, they’re working with a small business or nonprofit to rebrand them and help them market their materials. On the college level, it’s not just a print competition. It’s the whole gamut from art, design, working with customers, printing it and then displaying it as if it were on the shelf.
I allow the teachers to guide the competition because that’s who has to implement it in the classroom. They know what the limitations are and what some of their capabilities are and they have to come to a consensus. What has developed over that process is camaraderie between the schools and an exchange of ideas between the schools.
pP: What role does the Phoenix Challenge play in opening the door to a career path for young people in the flexographic printing industry?
BK: The kids that come to the challenge — whether it be high school or college — are exposed to much more of the industry. For high school, I bring people in, introduce them and we talk about networking. The people that judge the high school competition come from in and out of state — some are ink, some are doctor blades, some are converters. It’s kind of a hodgepodge of different types of people. I do that on purpose so [students] see the variety of career opportunities there are.
For the College Challenge, because we’ve decided to do the College Challenge the day before the Forum starts, we try to get the colleges to stay and go to the FTA Forum and INFO*FLEX, which gives the kids exposure to the industry. The seniors usually have job interviews on the floor. The industry is waking up to the fact that these kids are ready.
pP: What can industry members do to help further flexographic education?
BK: If somebody is out there and they know there’s a [graphic communications] program, maybe they don’t have flexo. If we can get ahold of those programs and introduce those teachers to the wonderful world of flexo, then most of the time, they’ll want to do flexo. The industry people that are out there — especially the ones that need employees — they need to reach out to their local communities and find out where we can put a program. We call the converters who support this, “industry champions.” If they champion a school, a teacher may need information on where to call to get certain supplies. Or the press may have an issue and they don’t know how to fix it. Maybe the converter has a maintenance person who could stop by there for 30 minutes after work to see what’s going on.
pP: How can Forum and INFO*FLEX attendees learn more about the Phoenix Challenge Foundation and meet the students who will be involved?
BK: Stop by the Flexo in Education booth (booth 919). We will have all of the displays set up of what the college kids did this year. The kids will be rotating through manning the booth with different schools at different times.
The kids will also be out on the floor. We’ll be selling the 50/50 raffle tickets as we do every year. The reason we do the 50/50 raffle is to help with the expenses of the Phoenix Challenge College Competition, but it’s also to force kids to interact with industry folks. It’s an icebreaker. I challenge the industry to seek some of these kids out. Tell them about what they do. Share with them about their jobs. Ask them what they’re interested in. The kids need those kinds of questions and the industry is usually quite amazed by their answers.