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Commentary & Analysis

FREE Future of Graphic Arts Education = Future of the Graphic Arts by Frank Romano

Every industry needs an educated workforce to advance into the workplace of the future.

By Frank Romano
Published: November 10, 2006

Every industry needs an educated workforce to advance into the workplace of the future. This is a challenge for industry and education alike. In 1980, U.S. graphic arts colleges had about 20,000 students enrolled, most of whom had taken graphic arts in high school or had family members in the industry. In the late eighties, high schools started to phase graphic arts programs to desktop publishing. Laser printers and PCs were cheaper than printing presses and graphic arts equipment. Kids spent more time designing than printing.

Do we wait until CtP and PDF workflows are entrenched? Do we delay teaching digital printing until everyone is using it? Our industry needs graduating seniors and we can’t attract incoming freshmen.

You can plot the decline in graphic arts college enrollment from that time, as more high schoolers decided to pursue graphic design rather than printing educations. Colleges saw printing school enrollment decline as design schools saw enrollment growth. When asked, high schoolers rated printing just above farming and just below fast food. Today, there are fewer than 5,000 students enrolled in graphic arts two- and four-year degree programs--and over 40,000 students enrolled in graphic design programs.

College programs exist because there are students—no students, no program. Four-year college printing programs face a dilemma: the need for graduates is high, but interest in attending is low. Traditionalists said that promotion should emphasize printing. This was met with a giant yawn by high schoolers. Parents would ask, “Why should I pay tuition for my kid to be a press operator?” I once answered that their child would probably never run a press but would manage a plant filled with them. I added parenthetically that press operators were paid more than me.

Over the years, curriculum changed to reflect technology and industry changes. In the 1940s, letterpress dominated. Schools moved into litho teaching in the 1950s. Some were still teaching hot metal type as late as 1994. They all changed curriculum to meet the needs of the industry, some sooner and many later. Do we wait until CtP and PDF workflows are entrenched? Do we delay teaching digital printing until everyone is using it? Look at the changes in technology that have occurred in the last five years alone.

Fresh Out of Freshmen

Our industry needs graduating seniors and we can’t attract incoming freshmen. We asked industry suppliers, printing and related companies, association managers, and others. The problem was marketing. We could teach the core skills that a graduate needed to get a great job but we had to get them first. It came down to what excites high schoolers. They all have their own computers and they are into the Internet. They are an MTV and YouTube generation and, let’s be honest, the word “printing” is a turn-off.

Most four-year graphic arts programs are being renamed “graphic communication” (sometimes with the ‘s’). Some include cross-media content: XML, PDF workflow, e-publishing, and more. One is called graphic media, others add the word publishing, not only to attract students but to reflect the fact that this was not your father’s (or mother’s) printing industry any more. One critic claims there will not be printing managers because the programs are not called printing management and the curriculum does not look like the one from 1980. The industry does not look like the one from 1980.

We need to promote print as a viable career opportunity and what we do is so amateurish as to be ridiculous.

In some of my courses, students must create a 100-page book. The content must be text and images with pagination and covers. It is output from a laser printer and tape bound. At first there is grumbling about the project. But when their books exit the printer, their eyes light up, and at that moment, I own their soul (in a manner of speaking). They see that they can create something tangible, and their friends and families will see and touch it for decades. Show me that Web site project 20 years from now.

Graphic arts education must be ahead of the curve so graduates can help their employers get ahead as well. The printing company of the future will be an information factory and print will be only one output. But most schools cannot afford the equipment and software to teach with—and suppliers can only support so many schools. We need to promote print as a viable career opportunity and what we do is so amateurish as to be ridiculous. Perhaps we need to educate our associations and suppliers before we can educate students.

It is incumbent on all of us to get involved, as John Berthelsen, chairman of the Printing and Graphics Scholarship Foundation, pointed out in his interview earlier this week. Our future depends on it.

Editor's Note: The Print and Graphics Scholarship Foundation is helping over 240 of the top students at 100 colleges this academic year. Yet the Foundation had to turn away numerous applicants due to lack of funds. Please contact the the Printing and Graphics Scholarship Foundation and find out more about these efforts. Also ask how your company can get involved either as a volunteer or as a financial contributor. Email pgsf@piagatf.org or call (800) 910-4283.

Frank Romano has spent over 50 years in the printing and publishing industries. Many know him best as the editor of the International Paper Pocket Pal or from the hundreds of articles he has written for publications from North America and Europe to the Middle East to Asia and Australia. Romano lectures extensively, having addressed virtually every club, association, group, and professional organization at one time or another. He is one of the industry's foremost keynote speakers. He continues to teach courses at RIT and other universities and works with students on unique research projects.

Please offer your feedback to Frank. He can be reached at frank@whattheythink.com.

 

 

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