Charting an Unconventional Career in Packaging: An Interview with Lauren Benford
What does the pathway to a packaging career look like? It’s sometimes unconventional.
We chatted with a Senior Field HR Generalist for Sonoco Europe, Lauren Benford, about her unconventional career path in packaging. Lauren shared her Sonoco experience and how she expanded her knowledge and skillset by answering these 10 questions:
What did you do before joining Sonoco?
I always wanted to be a police officer, so I attended college from 2009 to 2011 to earn a Business and Technology Education Council (BTEC) national diploma in public services. However, the government made cuts during that period and decreased their recruitment efforts in the sector. I had to rethink my career path.
Alongside being at college, I worked at a fast-food chain as a sandwich artist and stayed on once my college course was completed. I enjoyed working there, but I did not feel that this position was my long-term career. I began my search for something new.
How did you hear about your starting role and when did you start at Sonoco?
My online search revealed a vacancy for a business administration apprenticeship at Sonoco Chesterfield in the UK. I applied for this internship. Sonoco VP of Finance for Global Rigid Paper Containers, Tim Nash, and Associate Director of Human Resources in Europe, Stacy Williams, interviewed me, and I started with Sonoco in April 2012. I have worked here for over 11 years now.
What was your first Sonoco role?
While full-time at the Chesterfield site, I also worked toward my National Vocational Qualifications (NVQ) Level 2 apprenticeship on the job. My main duties were dealing with incoming and outgoing mail, managing the time and attendance system and indirectly ordering items, such as stationery, PPE and maintenance supplies.
What learning opportunities did Sonoco offer you when you first joined?
Throughout my career, Sonoco has given me so many opportunities for which I will always be very grateful. After completing my NVQ Level 2 in business administration, I went on to complete Level 3. By this time, I started to pick up some human resources tasks, since my manager Stacy worked in human resources. During this time, I began to take a real interest in this function. I took on payroll for both the Chesterfield and the former Manchester manufacturing site (called Stokes Street) and achieved my payroll technician certificate (CIPP) in 2015. I then went on to study human resources practice, gaining certifications in Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD) Level 3 in 2017, CIPD Level 5 in 2018 and recently CIPD Level 7 in 2023.
I was promoted to HR Assistant in April 2017, then to HR Officer in July 2018 and most recently to Senior Field HR Generalist in November 2022. During this time, the Manchester production site was closed. From 2018, I started to fully support the Bradford and Chesterfield sites.
What career-advancing qualifications have you gained since joining Sonoco?
Sonoco provided other learning opportunities throughout my career. Beyond what I previously mentioned, I became a mental health first aider, assisted with different business functions and gained real insight into how the business operates. During my qualification courses, I fortunately gained great networking opportunities to share ideas and experiences with other HR professionals. My professional development has increased my confidence and knowledge, enabling me to do my role effectively and to the best of my ability.
What experience has been your favourite at Sonoco so far?
I have really enjoyed the opportunities to visit different Sonoco sites, meeting new people and experiencing differing cultures. I have visited several sites across the UK and in Hockenheim, Germany. These visits were a great experience to see how others work and share knowledge.
What motivates you in your current role?
My current role is Senior Field HR Generalist. When Sonoco goes through changes, I embrace it and work to make it work for our employees. My passion for employee engagement motivates me to get things right for our employees.
How did your most recent qualification progress your career?
I recently qualified for CIPD Level 7 in strategic people management. After finishing my CIPD Level 5, I was very concerned about being able to commit the time needed to complete my Level 7 qualification, but the time came to bite the bullet and go for it. I finished this two-year academic qualification while working full-time, filling every Thursday evening and many weekends in the process. I am really proud of achieving this qualification that is equivalent to a master’s degree.
After taking a short breather, I can now focus on new areas of learning, such as assisting the Chesterfield site as we begin our Sonoco Performance System (SPS) journey. This SPS process could offer career progression for me to be a people manager in the future.
What advice would you offer those considering an alternative path into a packaging career?
It is never too late to make a career change, so do what you want to do. As you know, I didn’t continue to university after completing my college course when I was younger. At times I wondered if I may regret that decision. Looking back, I would not change anything about my career. I have gained so much experience throughout my time with Sonoco, and I still have a lot to learn. Through hard work, my full-time role and the full support of Sonoco, I have achieved degree-level qualifications.
What is something fun you enjoy outside of work?
If you need a small wall built or a DIY job completed, I’m the person to call as I did bricklaying, joinery, painting and decorating as one of my GSCEs. When I am not walking my blue whippet, Opie, I am probably spending time with my fiancé Joe, who proposed to me during a holiday in Bruges last year. I’m currently looking forward to celebrating my completion of CIPD Level 7 at graduation.
Looking to the future, I anticipate continuing my education and reinforcing my learning in the manufacturing industry at this global packaging company.
Sonoco Consumer Products Europe