Jana Harris is passionate about education, especially education that prepares and attracts the next generation of workers to careers in the corrugated industry. 

Last month at Corrugated Week 2022 in San Antonio, Texas, former AICC Chairman Gene Marino, President of Chicago, Illinois based Akers Packaging Service Group, passed the gavel to Harris, CEO and Co-Owner of Haltom City, Texas based Harris Packaging and Mansfield, Texas based American Carton Company. 

In her first task as chairman, Harris presented Marino and his wife, Megan Marino, with the AICC’s crystal globe in recognition of the Marinos’ deep commitment to AICC and their many hours of traveling throughout North America over the past year of Marino’s term.

Harris announced her “Better Minds, Better Boxes” educational theme and said she will look to AICC members for their opinions, suggestions and help as she embraces her new leadership role. 

“I believe if we’re going to continue to grow in this industry, we’ve got to get in front of the next-generation workers,” she said. “We have great career opportunities for these kids, but we’ve just got to get out there and spread the news.”

As a longtime supporter of education through the AICC’s Emerging Leaders program, industry foundations, her alma mater, the University of Texas at Arlington, as well as her local STEM school, Harris has worked hard to maintain connections that have been beneficial to her company, as well as the industry. 

The International Corrugated Packaging Foundation (ICPF) partnered with Harris’ alma mater, the University of Texas at Arlington (UTA), in 2013 to help introduce packaging design and graphics into the school’s liberal arts course offerings. Harris said that UTA’s president at the time was excited about the program because it offered arts students a career path they probably never even considered. Harris said that her experience being on campus and around educators showed her that very few people knew anything about the industry. But, as experience has also shown her, “Once we open the door, they’re pretty much hooked. You all know once you get into this industry, you’re in it.”

Harris serves on UTA’s presidential and advisory board and is on campus every semester during Business Week. It provides a great opportunity to meet the faculty, talk about her family’s business and the career opportunities in the industry. Harris Packaging volunteers as design competition judges, and Harris Packaging’s founder, Joe Harris, also a UTA alumnus, sponsors the Joe Harris Scholarship. 

“Dad gets to pick out a winner every semester and he really enjoys doing that,” she said. “He put himself through school while he was working full-time and had a family, so he likes to be able to share that as something special to the scholarship to others who are in the same boat.”

The strong relationship Harris Packaging has with the deans and faculty at UTA has been a big win in terms of talent. Harris said they have hired 10 UTA students so far. When her companies are looking for a new hire, it is a great resource to find the best and brightest candidates. “I highly recommend making those connections,” she said. 

As Harris focuses on promoting packaging education to the next generation of workers,  she sees three avenues to pave the way. 

Industry Foundations

While the ICPF partners with colleges and universities to support box making careers, the newly formed Foundation for Packaging Education, supports training for the industry’s existing employees. The foundations complement each other as ICPF works to get students to the industry’s front door, and the Foundation for Packaging Education is there to support continuing education after employees are hired. 

“Both of these foundations are very important, and I think they play a huge role on our industry’s future,” Harris said. “Please continue to support both of those foundations, and if you’re not already doing it, please consider it.” 

Trade Schools

A pool of talent exists in the nation’s trade schools and Harris said that the industry needs to tap into it. 

“We’ve all had issues in filling positions on our plant floor and obviously that’s only been amplified in the last couple of years,” Harris said. “I believe if we team up together in corrugated, building bridges, and get out in front of these students, we could bring packaging to a brand-new audience that we didn’t know even exists.”  

American Carton, a folding carton facility co-owned with Jana’s sister, Jenise Cox, has already tapped into the “pool” by hiring its first intern from a local STEM school. Harris said they are also in conversations about supporting a packaging program at the school and hope to be able to share information that AICC members can take to their local STEM schools. 

Emerging Leaders & Young Professionals

AICC and TAPPI invest heavily in their respective programs for young people in the packaging industry. TAPPI’s Young Professionals Division provides an avenue for college students, recent graduates, and early career professionals to develop leadership and technical skills and build relationships with other industry professionals. The AICC Emerging Leaders Program offers training, networking and leadership opportunities to young people who are ready to commit to their professional development. 

Harris said she is a big believer in these programs, noting that they are there for the industry, AICC members and associates alike and are truly worth the investment. As a host to a previous Emerging Leader trip, Harris urges AICC members to embrace their own “superstars” within these programs. 

“Just seeing their excitement about our industry gave me confidence in the future health and growth of not only my company, but our industry as a whole,” she said. 

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