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Commentary & Analysis

Where have all the students gone? Part deux

I have been overwhelmed with the response to the last column on attracting new people to printing.

By Frank Romano
Published: July 20, 2007

I have been overwhelmed with the response to the last column on attracting new people to printing. You are all so articulate and passionate -- I am proud to be a part of the industry that you represent. I have heard from students, graduates, teachers, company owners, pressmen, industry suppliers, association reps, retirees, friends old and new, and others. There was one that said “my father took me to one of your presentations in 1974.”

Some editing of your replies was done for brevity and WTT has agreed to run many of them. Almost all of you agreed with the premise of the article, but a few were like this -- “the fact remains that it's just not a very exciting industry and it doesn't pay very well” and “they have wised up and sought jobs with a better future.” Fortunately this attitude was expressed by only two out of over 100 replies.

Someone caught me on my “only seven jobs open for graphic designers.” But I quote one of the repliers, a recent graduate: “My graphic designer friends don't have jobs yet. All my printing friends are either on co-op or had jobs within a few weeks of graduation.

The printing industry is in the top ten of industries that have donated the most for scholarships. The design industry is almost at the bottom. Let the design industry take care of design students, and let the printing industry take care of printing students.

There were a few replies that are not presented. They were too specific about organizations or programs. In general, they claimed that some who control scholarship money do not promote well and waste money on bureaucracy. We do know that some of the best scholarships are administered by volunteers (with professional financial advice) -- the Bookbuilders of Boston does a superb job. I was at their 70th anniversary banquet recently and spoke to scholarship recipients past and present. EDSF gives away most of the money it receives and brings recipients to its annual meeting to meet their benefactors.

Some repliers bemoaned the competing groups -- the Graphic Arts Education and Research Foundation under NPES, the Print and Graphics Scholarship Foundation under PIA/GATF, the Print Council, the Electronic Document Systems Foundation, other national and regional associations, academic scholarship funds, supplier scholarships, and private donations. Heidelberg’s Larry Kroll said it best “In short, no one company, organization or individual can solve the graphic arts talent shortage alone. We need an organized, cooperative initiative that transcends the special interests of the participants, and focuses on the preparation of our next generation graphic arts workforce.”

The printing industry is in the top ten of industries that have donated the most for scholarships. The design industry is almost at the bottom. Let the design industry take care of design students, and let the printing industry take care of printing students. If a graphic designer wants a printing degree, I will be the first to contribute. But, to use printing industry funds to support anything other than printing is not right. If there are not enough applicants, make the scholarship amount higher. I would rather see quality rather than quantity. I know a young person who works for a small printer on Cape Cod. He would love to go to college but has no money. Here is someone who would be a great contributor to the industry but the miniscule amount of monies given would not cover the cost. If we gave money only to those who focused on printing and more of it, we could make a great start to filling the ranks of new hires with the workforce of the future.

Many of you volunteered to be student ambassadors or help in other ways. I would love to point you at organizations who would put you to work -- but there aren’t any. I think the industry has to get its house in order first.

With all the groups involved, why hasn’t the following been done?

A single website that summarizes all the scholarships available, with rules and forms. Call it “printingscholarships.org” and link it to everything, but make it so that everything the student needs is in one place. There would be a calendar showing application deadlines fro each scholarship and even information about the printing industry. The web address would be promoted to every high school counselor, teacher, and student. It would be cheap, effective, and reach students where they live -- online. I am certain that companies would step up to fund it and host it gratis. It can be done immediately. Let’s put politics aside and accomplish this one step.

One small step for students, one giant leap for the printing industry.

Here are the replies and I thank Whattheythink.com for allowing me to give you the full effect of what the industry thinks in its own words:


Frank Romano’s July 13 WhatTheyThink.com article on the dwindling number of students entering the graphic arts field and the growing need to draw students to the printing industry struck a chord for me and hopefully for many others in the printing industry. Having been part of Heidelberg’s Print Media Academy (PMA) for 10 years, the subject of training and education in our industry is always foremost in my mind.

I see training and education not as an individual task for any single company or organization but as an industry obligation that must encompass all sectors of the printing industry. Mr. Romano is correct in pointing out that our industry is a patchwork of many sectors. For this reason, we cannot rely on associations alone to carry the banner, and fragmentation makes it unlikely that a printer could take the lead in education. Suppliers and manufacturers have a responsibility to support their customers' success with dollars, time and personnel. Schools have a responsibility to teach their students and initiate continuing education opportunities for non-degree candidates. Scholarship foundations must continue to provide assistance that makes it possible for young people to get the education they need, and individual businesses should work with our educational institutions to establish internships and continuing education opportunities in their communities.

The industry must come together to attract and build the graphic arts workforce of tomorrow.  The long-term viability of print is more than a matter of building, advertising and promoting our image. It is an intensely practical concern, based on the recognition that the most sophisticated high-tech equipment is going to perform only as well as the people operating it. Only well-trained personnel are able to provide the level of quality and productivity that makes the use of modern, automated equipment both feasible and profitable. This is why organizations like SkillsUSA (formerly Vocational Industrial Clubs of America) are so important for reaching high school and college students and teachers to prepare tomorrow’s workforce for careers in trade, technical and skilled service occupations and educate future graphic arts employees at the operator level.

In short, no one company, organization or individual can solve the graphic arts talent shortage alone. We need an organized, cooperative initiative that transcends the special interests of the participants, and focuses on the preparation of our next generation graphic arts workforce. With these issues top of mind, Heidelberg is participating with PGSF, PIA/GATF, NAPL and other cornerstones of our industry in hosting a second graphic arts education summit at Graph Expo 2007. Speakers from all areas of our industry will be offering various viewpoints on how we can tackle this talent crisis together as an industry. I welcome input from others on how we can continue to collaborate and take action as an industry to educate and excite the printers of tomorrow. Thanks, Frank, for shedding light on this critical issue.

Larry Kroll, Vice President, Print Media Academy, Heidelberg


I really like the points you made, and as a two-year technical college we have been working aggressively with our area high school programs, teachers and counselors to spread the good news about careers in Print Media. Since we began our full-time program in January 2001 three high schools have added graphic arts programs to their technical education list of offerings, however, these additional high school programs have not translated into increased enrollments. Students enrolled in these programs at the high school level also receive college credit that may be transferable to other two and four year colleges. Unfortunately, most of these high school graduates move on to other career areas. This year we began marketing our program as "Print Media" and moved away from the more traditional "Printing and Publishing" name. I had suggested that we formally change the program name to "Graphics Media," however, that was not well received.

Dean Flowers, Associate Dean
Harry V. Quadracci Printing & Graphics Center
Pewaukee, WI


My background is in printing, not graphic design. One of the key problems at the high school level is finding people who will come out of industry to teach a high school graphic communications class. I voluntarily left printing to teach at 45 years old. It was a very big pay cut but by the grace of the good Lord, I haven't looked back. Getting a pressman to take a pay cut and try to adapt to the classroom environment is very hard. Printers see things in either right or wrong. The register and color is either right or wrong which makes it hard when working with teenagers. The money and adapting is a big distraction to recruiting skilled pressman to teach. Many teachers I've met are college graduates with a degree in design or art. I have not met many teachers who are former printers. Also, schools lack the money to start a printing program. It is cheaper to buy a room full of computers than printing equipment. They teach Photoshop and call it a printing/graphics program. The companies I have worked for usually had 2-5 graphic's people and 100's of manufacturing people. I enjoyed your article and I will share it with my students.

Scott Porter
Johnson High School
Gainesville, GA.


I couldn't agree with you more. When I was first introduced to printing it was through an industrial orientation program my freshman year of high school. We would spend six weeks in one vocation and move to the next. When we got to Graphic Arts, I had no interest in "Art." On the first day of class we saw the presses and what we were going to do and I was hooked. I soon took a part time job running a duplicator, went to Triton College for Photo offset Lithography and now run our shop of forty employees. Soon after I graduated high school in 1985 they shut down the printing program. The last time I checked Triton, the program  was severely diminished. I am in charge of the pressroom and bindery and have a very difficult time of hiring young talent. Ten years ago when we placed an ad for a pressman or folder operator we would have fifty applicants. Today we will be lucky to have ten, and the workforce is aging rapidly. We have hired several grads in the past but treat them with kid gloves, show them the shop and put them in sales because they have an education.

We need skilled operators who have been taught the basics of printing as well as the meaning of work ethic. We are not seeing as many young people in our industry or others because it is work, plain and simple. When parents spend so much money to send their kids to college they don't want to see them get ink under their fingernails and work twelve hour shifts for a lower wage than other trades or professions. When I entered the industry in the eighties, we were on the top of the food chain for trade work. Now we are struggling to survive. It is unfortunate but I see it as a trend that will continue as digital presses catch up to traditional offset and technology makes what we do obsolete.

Todd Mason
Press Supervisor
Elk Grove Graphics
Elk Grove Village, Il.


The students are gone -- really gone. Two years ago this August, the graphic arts program I taught in a vocational-technical school near Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania closed when the enrollment reduced to a minuscule three students. It was a slow death and one that was resurrected and reduced from full-time to part-time many times over 17 years. Allegheny County had.four printing programs, not counting all the small classes that were available in the City of Pittsburgh high schools. There was also an adult program at a school called Connelly Skills Learning Center. Since you were with the Graphic Arts Technical Foundation in Pittsburgh for many years, I'm sure you may recall the data. I believe there is now only one program. They all slowly died when, as you said, the digital revolution came on board.

I know many students over that 17-year period chose my program because they thought was an art class (it was called Graphic Arts). I told them that they would have to interact with printers on a day-to-day basis after becoming a graphic designer and it would be a great advantage to them to have the knowledge of the printing process and many students stayed. However, the school with which I was employed decided to change the name from "graphic arts" to "printing technology." They thought it would end the confusion, but in my heart I knew that this would be the kiss of death. It took only a few years for the program to officially die.

The industry needs new blood. Hopefully a transfusion will be available in the near future.

Dolores H. Kovachick.


The question is: "How do American high school students make their career choices and how can we use this knowledge to get them to consider careers in printing as a viable option?" My suggestion:

1. Establish a research panel
A unified association group comprised of PIA/GATF, NAPL, etc. should establish a panel of knowledgeable industry professionals and educators. Panelists are chosen for their background, experience and problem-solving uniqueness and innovation as key elements.

2. Panel researches high school student attitudes and career objectives
This panel researches how American high school students choose careers, perceive the future, view education and training, work ethic issues, technological interests and abilities, etc. This is important background research and is not directed or focused at any specific career choice such as print. The panel may want to research how other industries with similar problems have solved them and how companies that actively employ recent high school graduates attract, hire and train these youthful employees. Statistical methods should ensure that the results accurately represent a reasonable cross-section of American high school students.

3. Brainstorm and develop an list of actions
The committee establishes (or becomes) a "brainstrorm group" where panel research study results are correlated with potential actions that might be taken so that high school graduates will perceive print as a viable career opportunity and will seek out jobs in our industry.

4. Develop a list of action plans
Develop the potential actions from brainstorming into a list of action plans and rank-order the action plans relative to expected effectiveness and cost-benefit.

5. Establish budget/funding requirements and implement the best action plans
This may require engaging advertising and public relations experts or others familiar with achieving positive results.

Phil Ruggles
Professor Emeritus, CalPoly


Interesting article regarding students and the printing industry, but  the fact remains that it's just not a very exciting industry and it doesn't pay very well and as you pointed out, a lot of graphic  designers are doing more and more of the tasks that once were done by pre-press technicians......i'm sure a lot of displaced pre-press  workers would love to get additional training and work in the  printing trade but i just don't see that happening...

Nick
(No company provided)


My comments are geared towards the college printing programs. I have been very happy with the opportunities that a degree in printing has provided, but I don't think people outside the industry understand the potential. I was lured into the industry after taking several printing classes in high school and attending a summer program at RIT. As I made my way through the RIT program I became more interested in the business aspects of printing than the technology. What if you tried to recruit business students to dual major or put in an extra year to pick up a printing BS to go along with the business BS? It could be marketed to them as a way to differentiate themselves from the millions of other general business students that are out there. Then the schools need to work with prospective employers create and recruit for management development programs. The business students then see the increase in job opportunities as proof that there is demand for printing and business skills.

I have been given opportunities largely based on my printing background. Certainly there were other candidates that could crunch numbers in Excel as well as I could. How do you stand out from a crowd of general business majors? You specialize in a technology that almost every major industry uses at some point in their supply chain. You do some work in that area, gain experience, and become eligible for higher level positions that would have otherwise been difficult to reach.

There is a lack of properly trained printing professionals entering the industry. Business students that understand this imbalance of supply and demand can capitalize on it.

Eric Wiley
Quality and Graphics Manager
International Paper, Foodservice Business


Since cutting my eye teeth selling for a letterpress shop over sixty years ago (with no high school training!), to my most recent visits to Color Centric, IBT and Malloy, I've always assumed that there would be plenty of people interested in printing careers. I wonder if this problem exists for other types of blue collar careers, considering the focus on professional college degrees. By the way, is it true there are only seven open jobs for graphic designers?

Eugene G. Schwartz
Editor at Large, ForeWord Magazine
Columnist, Book Business Magazine


I think we should add the old song "Where have all the flowers gone?" as back ground music to the article on the web-site. Old printers have picked them everyone…when will they ever learn? When will they ever learn. The scary part is all those graphic design students and grads think they are part of the printing industry.

Ray "Bubba" Flatt


Just want to let you know your article was right on the money. Here in Hawaii we have the same problems, everybody wants to be a Designer and we have them by the Dime a dozen, good bad and ugly ones but no printers. I used to go to High schools and help them with there printing program but since maybe the last 5 Years there is nobody interested in printing anymore. I think one of the big problems at least here in Hawaii is the schools don’t have the right equipment to interest Young People in to the printing. Over here all they had was a couple of old AB Dicks, so when the teacher introduced the Student to the Graphic Arts and showed them all the computer equipment they had and the two old presses it was a no brainier for them what they going to do. I went so far and told all the Teacher to bring the Students in to or shop and I give them a room and they can participate in or pressroom but this did not work for legal reasons. So I keep up hope something is going to happened but so far it is not looking good.

Manfred Nagel
VP - Print Production
Electric Pencil


They have wised up and sought jobs with a better future! I have been around printing since I was 10 & my Dad started his first printing company. I used to set (cold) metal type & even ran an old Kelsey hand fed press & a Miehle V36. Since running a press didn't appeal to me, I started as a cameraman & stripper, making the transition to a mac operator in the late 80s - early 90s.

I have seen the workforce (& payscales) go down over the years. In the 10 years I've been at my current job I've seen the prepress dept shrink to about a quarter of the size it was.

Already there are shops who have customers supplying them with real print ready pdfs, that can proof, impose & send jobs to plating with little to no intervention.  With all the global outsourcing, how long do you think it will be before someone in some 3rd world country will be getting $5 per day for hitting the print button?

Look, don't get me wrong - printing has been very very good to me & the fact that I enjoy what I'm doing has kept me in it this long, but I have to laugh on the occasions that they have a tour group of kids, either high school or college come through our shop. We usually refer to those as the "Scared Straight Tours".

My Dad passed "the curse" on to me, but I sure won't pass it on to my kids!

Mike Post
Wetmore Printing


Here in Loudon county Virginia the vocational school for printing has printing classes with good printing equipment in it. But only two students in it all the other students are in web page design or graphic art design. At Colorcraft we are now installing two new Heidelberg presses. A new XL 105 six color and a new SM 102 four color perfector. These press have the latest and greatest from Heidelberg. With the CP 2000 console You almost need a college education to run it. But I think if these kids in high school could see these new types of printing presses they just might want to learn the trade so they could run one of these COOL presses. We need to get word out that printing is not Ben Franklin in a dark room in the corner running a 100 year old press.

Buzz Lee


I am a student at Ryerson University's Graphic Communications Management Program. Ryerson is the only degree-granting print program in all of Canada, yet there are always fewer students graduating than students who enter in first year. A big part of the reason is many who enter are indeed graphic designer-hopefuls. I, on the other hand, entered this program knowing 100% what this program is about. It is how students are marketed to be interested in these programs. I don't think as printers they should market the jobs like "estimator" or "scheduler" or "production coordinator" but instead, should market the limitless job opportunities that are available and how many jobs there are out there in the many sectors of our economy.

When you talk about funding for scholarships, I also find that the only people who benefit from those scholarships are students who live in the U.S. Canada has maybe two major scholarships for students entering university in print. The CPIA (Canadian Printing Industries Association) and possibly their local OPIA (Ontario Printing Industries Association) or BCPIA.

Crystal Wong
Soon-to-be 4th year student at Ryerson University


I am retired from The Hearst Corporation where my last job was Director of Operations for Hearst Business Publishing. Prior to that I was Publisher of EEM/Electronic Engineers Master catalog. Both my wife of nearly 63 years now and I have been involved with printing and publishing for many, many years. She (Marge) was a typesetter. I was an engineer, then illustrator, ad manager, marketing manager, and editor/publisher. There ought to be something I might do to help you in your efforts. I sit here at my Dell most days writing stories about this or that. For almost 15 years after I retired from Hearst I wrote newsletters for them. Then some newbie decided "Nobody reads newsletters anymore". and that was the end of that.

Bill Mullin


Just read your thoughts regarding the current trends of "new blood" in the printing industry, and thought I would share a few thoughts, as you asked.

Regarding the students - To be a good person in print, you have to be all around knowledgeable in all aspects of IT. A multi-disciplinarian. An IT Polymath! A good print technologist needs to know enough about each sub-discipline to be able to 1) argue with the team responsible for that area that theirs really is the problem when there is one 2) pull all the bits and pieces necessary together to build a well engineered system 3) be passionate enough about each area to "keep up" with current technology and trends. It requires an extremely unique individual.

When hiring a candidate, we don't look for the person to have all of these. We look for a person willing to spend the time and effort to acquire them. As all of our equipment is digital (Xerox/Oce) - expertise in actually running a press are not needed.

I explained print to a recent candidate (whom we hired) this way... Print is not sexy. It is not the "next wave" of anything. It's like plumbing, you don't notice it until it doesn't work. It has a 500+ - year tradition of capturing some of humanities greatest achievements (books) and worst (junk mail). It is also the butt-end of a computer. It is its output. We are the least and most poorly understood area of IT. We are the least respected. To be good here, you have to be good in every facet of IT [see above]. It's like making-it in New York. If you can succeed here, you can succeed in any area of IT. By then you will have become an UberGeek!

Regarding the industry here in the US - I think it goes beyond just the fragmentation of the printers. The entire industry is fragmented - PIA/GATF, Xplor, AIIM, OnDemand, Graph Expo. For Profit, not-for profit. What to do about it? I don't know. Unlike the Oil/Gas/Auto/Pharma/Chemical/NRA, print companies do not see a need for a larger direction setting organizations/lobbying effort. What would they lobby for? Elimination of the click-charge? :) What is the threat that we can better deal with under some unifying cover? There is little perceived value proposition to be had by joining them. The What's In It For Me just isn't there. Very few companies (we can thank Wall Street for this) care about long term. Companies no longer develop 10-15-25-50 year plans. The longest horizon they tend to see the next quarters results. There are exceptions to this, but they are getting fewer and fewer. And the print vendors are right there - releasing products poorly designed, ill conceived or premature. The initial Xerox NuVera is case study in this. We had three in for testing. Our folks found 60+% of all the confirmed bugs in the systems. We got rid of them as soon as possible.

Douglas Hanna
Information Systems
Hewitt Associates


Thank you for your interesting article. I’m the director of Graphic Design at The Art Institute of Las Vegas, and am in a unique position to be able to propose to our schools a program that might meet the needs of the printing industry. There was a program on our docket that hasn’t gotten accreditation approval yet (therefore we can’t offer it yet) in digital print production – but this program is training the pre-press folks to do their job, not pressmen/women. There are some logistics that would need to be overcome to make this a viable proposal. Perhaps you can help me address them.

Our Bachelor’s Degree is $85K for the 3 year program. It is accelerated and focused, which makes it a great option. However, a student carrying a loan like that upon graduation won’t be very excited about a $20K a year job. The printing industry has been a “grow with the company” type of job. Do you think printers would be willing to step up to the plate and value a students bachelor’s degree (assuming it includes an internship) to place them at a salary more in line of $35K? What do you think it would take for a printer to make that kind of offer to a little experienced student?

Printing equipment varies and is large and cumbersome. The real estate required to house this equipment would be extensive. This could cause the program to be cost prohibitive to run. Is there specific equipment that is a must for students to know? Is there specific equipment that once it’s understood, jumping onto a different brand of equipment would have a smaller learning curve?

As your article states, being a printer isn’t “sexy”. What would you propose would be a draw to students who may not know they are interested in the industry? What is the draw to a high school senior? Are there large printing companies who would partner in this venture, providing internships and apprenticeships with significant rewards (as far as position and salary) to students?
Where can I find solid statistics on the future of the printing industry’s job market?

Regina Verdin, MA.Ed.
Academic Department Director, Graphic Design
The Art Institute of Las Vegas


Finally, some one who gets it! I would love to recruit and attend career fairs every day if I could, but associations personal are stretched very thin these days. Get me the tools from a focus group to use and that would make it easier! Another issue is getting the high school counselors educated on the industry. I have a son who just graduated and is off to college next year. There is greater emphasis on the students bound for college versus the students who are entering the work force. Those tend to fall through the cracks. Our high schools are “rated” on how many graduates go on to college, until that changes the emphasis will remain. I have 2 nephews who did not go on to college and were given no direction from the high schools.

The industry needs employees with math and computer skills. Getting to the students who may test well in these areas on the standardize tests they all take but perhaps aren’t reflected in their grades would be helpful. These are the same students who are apt not to go on to college. What about taking a look at the GED or HED graduates? These people may be a little older (19-21) and took it upon themselves to earn their certificate usually through a tech school. They may also be a source.

The industry needs a national campaign to improve our image. Look at what the plastics industry has done to raise their awareness. Or the “Got Milk” campaign.

How about “the visibly invisible industry” ? It’s every where, but no one thinks about it.

Judi Wolters
Director of Member Services
Printing Industries of Wisconsin


My graphic designer friends at RIT don't have jobs yet. All my printing friends are either on co-op or had jobs within a few weeks of graduation. I'm currently working at Spire. I just finished writing a huge Documentation Manual which we're going to implement in the next few weeks. I'm also working on implementing a web-based project management application and I'm working on a company-wide Wiki.

Bryan Yaeger


Your article strikes a chord with me. I run the training program for our future technicians. My most difficult task is trying to find new apprentices. In your article you discuss the lack of available students with hands on print related schooling, try and find a student with print related mechanical / electrical experience.

I attended the Skills USA competition in Kansas City, MO. We supply (6) Printmaster 46 machines for the students to compete on. Heidelberg has been participating in this for 6 years. Over the years the participants in the Graphics Arts competition has been steadily dropping. In the beginning years there were 75 to 80 students, this year we had 38.

In speaking with the teachers it seems to be a combination of quite a few factors:
1. The parents do not want their child working with machinery.
2. The cost of having a printing press for a school is high. (For the price of one small press you can get 50 computers.)
3. It is easier to train 30 students on 30 computers as opposed to them all being on one press.
4. General lack of interest in the students.

The ironic thing about my problem is that I do not look to to find my apprentices in any graphics arts programs. I look in auto mechanics, aircraft maintenance, power sports repair, machinist schools. It turns out that finding a student who is learning to be a press operator and has mechanical repair aptitude is very rare. The point is, even in the fields of schooling I am currently using to find apprentices, the numbers are dropping there also. Less students want to learn a field which enables them to repair machinery for a living. I can say that there is no shortage in students who want to design machinery, I get mechanical and electrical engineering applications continually. I need people who want to get their hands dirty.

Your most important point, is to make this industry more enticing to our younger generation. Short of developing a video game that some how mixes in snipers stealing cars while running a printing press, I am not quite sure how to go about it. We could start by career counselors educating not only the students but the parents also, as to the printing industry's ability to supply a viable income. As employers of these future students we need to work closer with the schools in promoting our industry. As you mentioned, we have advanced technology, we have creativity, we have cool machines. Something new happens all the time in the printing industry.

Paul Cavanaugh
Heidelberg Apprentice Development Program Manager


Your article is right on. I own a small printing company and cannot find any (reliable) young press operators. I get tons of applications for “graphic designers”. My youngest press room employee is 44. Granted we do not run “state of the art” equipment, mostly AB Dick and Multi duplicators. The technology has been on the prepress side, digital platesetters, digital color copiers / printers and great software programs.

Don S. Bock
Minuteman Press


How many of those who decide to embark on a graphic arts career actually stick it out and stay? What about the lack of women and minorities? Just thought I'd give you some more food for the fire.

Chris Echevarria
Goss International


I fear that printing suffers from the same handicap as all manufacturing industries in the US. The kind of families who send their kids to college regard printing as blue-collar work. They don't want to spend six figures sending their kid to college so he or she can go work in a factory.

Look on the shop floor in any US printing plant, and the plant managers and shift foremen will be gray-haired, English-speaking white guys. All the young kids who will take their places are from Brazil, Mexico, Cambodia, Vietnam.

That's not a bad thing. The current crop of bosses are Murphys and Colombos (and Currans and Romanos) whose families were upstart immigrants in their day. The real crisis is that college is the bridge between blue collar and white collar, between the jobs that require technical skills and the jobs that also require native-speaker English skills, like estimating, sales, finance, and strategic management. If that connection breaks down, if education becomes a barrier between the people in the plant and the people in the front office, then the plant might as well be in China. It will be in China if we don't educate our workforce.

Victor Curran
W.E.Andrews


You are so right! We got a real problem as an industry. For all the reasons that you mention printing is not a cool career choice for young people. The Print and Graphic Scholarship Foundation (PGSF) charter is to provide scholarships for students that have already made the career choice for Graphic Arts. It had never been a problem receiving a large number of applications from highly qualified students. In fact thousands of applications were turned down each year. Today we have fewer qualified applications. This is a big problem for the whole industry. PGSF has $9,000,000 in endowments now. This is serious money available to help students enter our industry. We have moved a number of the scholarship stipends to the "Gutenberg Level" of $5,000. The PGSF Board approved $450,000 for scholarships this year. This will go out to approximately 230+ students. We are trying to move some of our promotional material and promotional material for the industry to the web. We are looking at developing a site on Second Life, etc. Until we can attract more young people we have a serious problem. More printers, and suppliers, need to follow the example of a few and really get involved in supporting education.

Ted Ringman
Vice President of Development
Print and Graphics Scholarship Foundation


I am a recent college graduate from UT El Paso. My background is 3rd generation printer I have 9 years working with a commercial family business and currently I am with Taylor Publishing Co. we are the nations largest Yearbook manufacturer.I have recently submitted my online application to RIT school of Print Media. I feel that RIT is the best print learning forum in the United States. My intentions are to apply and hopefully be admitted to the Graduate Program in Print Media. Being in West Texas, there are 4 or 5 large printers, mostly commercial sheetfed and web, and currently my father is involved with a newspaper publisher that is on course to become a hybrid shop.

I feel the only way I will advance myself in the graphic communications industry is to be involved and experience with the best.

Charles Armendariz


Another area that we should be recruiting in is electronics. There should be a program designed just from printing at schools like DeVry for electronics technicians. Just try and have your in house maintenance folks trouble shoot your new press or bindery equipment.

I've loved printing since I was 15 years old. I'll be 60 this year. I often thought I would like to teach printing. It still excites me, but it is all but forgotten in most schools. The FTA group is doing some goods things with their Phoenix program, but most high schools and junior colleges have given their printing program the deep six. Find a kid that thinks he wants to be an auto mechanic and show him a career path in repairing printing presses, hmmmm.

I'm with you about graphic designers. On my list of least favorite words is "Artist." We need them but, gosh, how many designers can you swallow at one sitting??

Bill Conradi
Allen Press,
Lawrence Kansas


Read your article with great interest considering my involvement with education over the decades. Did you see my article in the May 2007 issue of Printing Impressions.It describes my teaching experience in China this past winter. The Chinese are turning out loads of printing graduates, many of whom, are being educated to work in plants producing work for export.

Also, one comment regarding your statement about associations not conducting focus groups. At GAERF, I personally sat in on many focus groups of high school students, and, while I couldn't sit in on all of them, we conducted them around the country, suburban and inner city school students, wealthy areas and not so wealthy ones.

The conclusion: printing did not register with students and it probably is the same today, although I believe, it may be even less relevant to any high schooler.

We tried but it requires a sea change and I don't see any tsunami occurring in the near future. Printers, while obviously concerned, in the main, are content to "recruit" employees from their competitors. That's how many fill those vacancies.

Regis Delmontagne


Amen to your column. We work with 118 small press shops throughout the country and me and one
other on staff previously taught at West Virginia Institute of Technology in
Printing Management.

We still keep in close touch with Tech and have made recruiting trips there for it's Printing Management program is idea for our CPrint(R) program consultants -- business and printing. So, I expand my reach to look at other printing schools and what I found for the most part is that Printing Management is no longer offered in most places (I think Pittsburg Kansas has a similar program).

Anyway, I have seen the phenomena you address and am in complete agreement. I am also interested in the family-based printing companies and have always felt that a Printing Management degree for Junior would be perfect, especially if a strong dose of family-based business principles were added.

You hit a responsive cord in me today and have inspired me to do some things about the subject that were on my 'to do' list.

Tom Crouser
CPrintR, Certified Printers International


I enjoyed your editorial on "Where Have all the Students Gone?" Found it to be right on target. Bravo!

Mark Michelson
Editor-in-Chief
Printing Impressions


I am an offset web pressman at the Star-Ledger and Dow Jones Inc. I am also a M.A. candidate in the Graphic Communications Management and Technology program at NYU. In response to your recent comment on Whattheythink.com concerning, "New England Printing and Publishing Council for printing scholarships, now with $1.6 million in the bank", going to arts students... Perhaps part of the problem is that those scholarships are open only to New Englanders as their website states, "Students competing for scholarships must be residents of New England." I and my fellow students at NYU are thankful for what we have, however we would certainly appreciate access to other funds as would students at RIT and Cal Poly. I am forwarding this to PPCNE in the hopes that they will consider opening their hearts and wallets to other students within the industry.

Robert Ivan


There is no question that there is a major problem in this business in terms of bringing in young new blood. Simply attend any print industry trade show, conference, symposium, or standards meeting. The average age is at least 40 or higher. And the more this group looks geriatric, the even more difficult it is to attract youth into the industry.

Why do schools continue to attract and train "designers" as opposed to print professionals? This is not difficult to fathom. "Design" has a connotation of neat, cool, edgy and fun. "Print" has a connotation of toiling in smelly factory settings in industrial parks with toxic chemicals, little public exposure and potential for recognition, and continually having to scramble for job as the industry "consolidates" (euphemism for large numbers of smaller companies either go out of business entirely or are acquired by bigger and just as marginal print companies).

Companies that hire "designers" are most often located in hip and trendy places where it isn't difficult to find other jobs in their chosen profession (or a job as a waiter while trying to find that ideal job). Print companies are often located in one-company towns where there are no other opportunities and the labor force is fairly captive to the local pay scale (unless one pays to relocate oneself). Kids and their parents who pay the tuition bills are not stupid. It costs just as much and probably more  to be fully properly trained in publishing, prepress, printing, and finishing than to learn to be a "designer." Supposed designers (anyone can hang out a shingle  that says "designer") are a dime a dozen, but when someone contemplates a possible career in "printing" and does due diligence in looking at how many of the print companies are going out of business, laying off employees, etc., it is easy to see how college major decisions are made.

Dr. Dov Isaacs


You hit the nail right on the head! High school students need to be touched by printing. We used to do career days at high schools. The best career day was one in which we brought a press in. It was held in the gym and a good number of tables were set up with representatives from different industries exhibiting to students, much like a trade show. It was just a small two color duplicator, but the kids went nuts. Enrollment in the printing class went up 40 percent. We've done that career day ever since. Now we wheel up the school's press and the students run it a bit in front of their peers. We even do something as simple as showing four color process through a loupe. The kids are amazed. Every year students leave that school for printing jobs and on to college.

Charles Bivona
Franklin Graphics Solutions
Philadelphia, PA


With the advent of computers, the craft element of this business seemed to disappear. As a digital prepress professional, it was very enlightening to switch from the world of keylines, rubylith, film and cameras to image and platesetters as well as digital presses. From an employment perspective, in an industry that used to be rich with opportunity, the digital prepress person is now, and has been for some time, seeing a narrowing window of opportunity. The reality of the industry is that once the "craftsmanship" component was assumed by the computer, it was also assumed that the need for competent, well trained thoughtful personnel was no longer a necessity. One of the running jokes in the backside of many shops is the all one must do is to " push a button and the job will automatically be printed, folded, collated, etc."  Many times technology has been oversold as the replacement for a competent print workflow and a great staff instead of a complement to good staffing. I currently work with a Prinergy workflow. It is a good product but the drive that I see is to eliminate as much of the human component as possible. The reason that design is so attractive is that there appears to be no growing opportunity in the production area. One of the most recent developments is the soft proofing of jobs online and the opportunity of a totally automated workflow for the design community in which they can submit their job to the printer, rip the job and view a soft proof with no human intervention whatsoever. We discuss this at work and the consensus is that at some point this will become a reality and as with earlier technological advances, jobs will disappear. The question is, is it wise to stay with this industry, as some of us have. Or would it be wiser to seek another path. Some of us have retrained for different technologies six or seven times. I have switched jobs several times to follow technological trends and stay "above water" as I saw fellow employees lose their jobs, homes and families to such
change.

With the push for globalization, it is very unlikely that jobs in this industry will continue to be an open door for my children's children. It is a distinct possibility there will be very little left of the production end of this industry in years to come that will offer a livable wage and the rich culture of the past. I am not sure what could be done to turn this around, but I would say to anyone considering going into the manufacturing side of the print industry, be prepared for the volatility that exists for layoffs are commonplace in many shops. You will need to live very conservatively as wages have not grown significantly for many years or kept up with other industries. It is still a good place to be, but unfortunately one is often looking over their shoulder as the "technology gods" swallow up yet another group of jobs. You can only "retrain" so many times before it starts to look like life on a gerbil wheel. God bless those American printers who have chosen to provide good jobs for the American print community, for they are becoming fewer as the years and many are discouraged at the thought of trying to compete globally in a meaningful way in this country. I will stay until I retire (I hope) but I doubt that I can say to my grandchildren that print is still a place to be employed for the long term with great pay and benefits as I think this is going to deteriorate as time goes on. Only time will tell.

Grace Swanson


Unfortunately, many executives in our industry have the attitude that printing is a dying industry. I personally disagree with this thinking because there is still much printing to be had out in the market. In our small commercial print shops which is the business I have been in for the last 39 years, yes many changes have taken place with the invention of the computers, high speed copiers B/W and color copiers and DI presses. But our industry average of printing being done has held at about 40+ percent. Does this percentage include some of these other ways of doing business? I don't know. Other ways being that many of the copy manufacturers call their machines presses.

Bob Jauregui


I am a community college professor in Seattle, and have been preaching this for the past few years. I have the added constraint of being located in a smaller market. In fact, one of the last two high school programs will be closed soon. With only a handful of community colleges in the Northwest that supports offset printing...where does this leave our local industry? Nobody seems to be worried. Seattle Central CC is building a new Creative Arts Academy (which has a full offset/digital printing component - along with full bindery/finishing etc.) I have been soliciting manufacturers, vendors and even small companies within the printing industry (along with trade organizations) for the past year to help fund this project. Heck, most of our grads work for local printing companies. No takers! Not one! So, we are left on our own to try to build a facility to meet the needs of an industry that cannot see past tomorrow - an industry I love and have been a part of for twenty years. Thanks for a great and honest piece.

Chris Sullivan
Seattle Central CC


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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