This 'Engineer Spotlight' features Karen Corliss, one of our project managers based out of Denver, CO. Karen is a 'career packaging nerd' as she puts it in her own words. Her career includes many years working directly for Fortune 100 Consumer Packaged Goods (CPG) companies prior to joining Design Group in 2016.
She has been recognized amongst her peers and clients as a valued consultant due to her extensive industry experience. Her knowledge of client businesses helps her to analyze, predict and advise on avoiding impending challenges.
Karen was recently appointed to the PMMI Future Workforce Committee. PMMI is a trade association for Packaging and Process Technologies representing various North American manufacturers and suppliers of equipment and materials. This particular PMMI committee aims to augment the shortage of skilled talent by spreading awareness on career options for the future workforce and providing them appropriate training. Karen is working at an industry level to engage and prepare youth and young adults for careers in the packaging and processing industry.
We got a chance to catch up with her about her career in engineering and her volunteer work in engaging the next generation engineering and manufacturing workforce. Here is what she has to say.
Share with us a brief history of your career and what excites you about the work you do.
As a newly minted mechanical engineer, I started my career in a manufacturing facility and never looked back. I was hooked. While working direct for CPG companies you develop this sense of pride for your brand that keeps you going, even through tough projects and situations.
Fast forward to becoming a consultant, I carry this pride over to our clients and even “adopt” their brand as we are working side by side commissioning and starting up a packaging line for example. Seeing the product on the shelf is the reward and I am genuine when I say I am proud of the work we do to implement their [client] vision.
What would you say is your specialty, or in other words, what are you known for?
One of my strong traits is efficient handling of challenging situations. I would say I’m known for being the first one to step up in resolving a stressful or difficult situation. Whether dealing with schedule delays, addressing ad-hoc resource planning for a project, delicate personnel interactions, I have meticulously handled such situations. Early on in my career, I became known as a ‘fixer’!
Share a few thoughts about how you entice younger generations of engineers to work in the manufacturing industry.
I feel many of today’s youth simply do not understand what we do. It is our responsibility, as an industry, to engage with our future workforce and communicate the exciting opportunities available to them in our respective areas. And it’s not enough to just communicate and hope they understand. We need to speak to youth in new ways and in their language.
In addition to being a full time engineer within industry, I founded a nonprofit to address these very issues. I host manufacturing tours frequented by youth and families who may not otherwise have the opportunity to see inside a factory. I also produce hands-on activity based events that engage both youth and adults in critical thinking and creative expression. I bring learnings from my nonprofit work to these industry challenges to address and lower barriers to increasing youth interest in engineering and manufacturing careers.
What advice would you give an engineer just starting out in his or her career?
I’ve spent almost my entire career in “Fast Moving Consumer Goods” and I would start by saying: Stay Nimble. The work that we do can be fast and furious with a lot of moving parts and ambiguity atypical of traditional school curriculum. Additionally, early career engineers typically have the flexibility to take on assignments involving domestic and/or overseas travel. If any opportunity arises, perhaps ask them to err on the side of taking the assignment and think on what they would miss out on by not taking the assignment.
How has Design Group culture defined your career experience?
I find the Design Group culture inclusive, very empowering, and allowing me to become my best self, based on who I am as a person. I believe the profession of engineering and manufacturing is going through a transition period right now and the needs of the industry are changing. The work we do in this industry requires all types of skills, personality types and perspectives. I strongly believe Design Group and its culture is one of the key leaders and drivers of this change.
At Design Group, we take great pride in our people-centric culture and creating an environment where talent thrives through recognition. We will continue to celebrate the success of our professionals.