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  • 06 Jul 2021

Young managers – Mikaela Harding

Mikaela Harding, technical sales support at Avery Dennison

Mikaela Harding, technical sales support at Avery Dennison label and packaging materials, discusses her experience as a young woman in print and her role in Finat’s Young Professionals Network. 

Like most people who talk about their journey into any sort of print or packaging, I fell into it. I did a chemistry degree at university, finished my degree, came home, and thought ‘what’s next?’ I wasn’t sure what to with my chemistry degree, so I looked around and saw a job come up at Sun Chemical. The job was working with the Pantone life project. I was aware of Pantone; I loved the idea of working with color and had always followed the trends in terms of Pantone color of the year. I managed to get the position and it immediately immersed me into different types of ink technology and print technology. It all went from there.

I fell into labels a little bit later on when I was introduced to Pulse Roll Label Products. That is where I found the label industry. While I may have fallen into it, I absolutely love it. One of my main aims in life is to shout about the label industry, and the packaging industry as a whole, to make people aware of it – especially the younger generation.

“Understanding why different generations think the way they do has really helped me in understanding why certain things happen in my career.”

Coming from a chemistry background, I like working in the lab and understanding things but the more I progressed, the more I got into different things. I didn’t really think I was cut out for sales in the beginning, however technical sales ended up being a good fit for me. You have the sales element of meeting the customers and discussing the projects with them, but I also get to help them on a much more technical level, rather than just a pure sales role and only discussing price. When you get more into the technicalities then you can really get involved in what is going on and that is where my science background gets to peek in.

Experience as a young woman in the industry

The industry as a whole is quite challenging, especially for a young female in the ink sector. It was quite challenging. Physically, I was working with 20 kilo pots of ink on a day-to-day basis and that manual labor aspect was difficult for me. Intellectually, I can really see the gaps from the current to the next generation. That is why I am so passionate about getting the next generation in to the industry and helping them to have a smoother path. It wasn’t easy for me in the beginning. It’s not that I didn’t have great support from my employers and everybody around me, but when you are a supplier going into a customer and talking to somebody on press who has been on press for 50 years, it is hard to convince them of a different way of working.

That generational disconnect intimated me when I was entering the industry. Having to discuss new technologies with people who have been working in print for so long and coming to them with new ideas was incredibly difficult. I felt frustrated I wasn’t being listened to, but I needed to grow in my professional development and see the struggle from the other side. I had to persevere and not take it personally. Understanding why different generations think the way they do has really helped me in understanding why certain things happen in my career.

Finat Young Professionals Network

I started getting involved with the Young Professionals Network, at the time called the Young Mangers Club, when I was working for Pulse Roll Label Products. It was the MD there who recommended that I join. I gave the president of the YMC a call and he convinced me that joining would be really beneficial for my career; he was completely right.

For the first couple years we struggled with attendance and that is when we decided we needed to reinvigorate what was the Young Managers Club. We changed the name to the Young Professionals Network because we thought the term managers could be quite exclusive; you don’t need to be a manager to join in.

When the former president was relocated to the US, he resigned as president and I stepped into the role. I don’t like the term ‘president’ and I call myself the chief disruptor. That’s a term we came up within the group; what I like about it is we have a good board and I don’t like it being all my decisions or all my ideas. I like that it is a group of us who work together on initiatives; it is not just me making the decisions as a formal president. It is a group effort and I absolutely love it.

This past year has been horrendously tough; 2020 was rough for everyone. It has been difficult to fit in YPN duties along with my full-time job, but we have been keeping in touch with each other. We have a WhatsApp group that we always like to check in and see how everyone is doing. We had our first meeting of 2021 a few weeks ago so we are hoping to start the ball rolling a bit more.

Looking forward

The label industry in general has been reinvigorated in the past few years in a few different areas. The first is sustainability. Everyone is talking about it as a trend, but I believe it is the future of the way we are going to work.

Another area is the intelligent labeling side of things. RFID is an incredibly exciting technology that could become more and more a part of the labels industry because the opportunities are endless. It could solve a lot of issues we are facing at the moment.

You can watch Hardings full young manager's interview here. 

Jordan Hart - online editor


Jordan joins the editorial team with international journalism experience and a degree in communication.

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