The Pennsylvania College of Technology in Williamsport, PA just discontinued their Graphic Communication Technology major. The decline in enrollment began in 2001 and only four new students entered the major in the more recent term.
The GT curriculum covered the basic ground of most printing programs with newer courses for digital media publishing. But high school kids do not want to be printers and our industry has done a terrible job in changing their perception of the industry. We still give out booklets listing printing jobs such as estimator and planner. I can just see a high school kid saying “Oh, I want to be an estimator when I grow up.” This is not to reflect badly on estimators. Their jobs are relatively secure because kids are not vying for them.
It is also unfortunate that many scholarships for printing degrees are given to graphic design students. We do not need more graphic designers. In the U.S., 44,000 2-year and 4-year baccalaureate design degrees are given every year. The market cannot absorb 44,000 new graphic designers every year. The folks who give out printing scholarship money for design are part of the problem.
Back in 1995 I gave a speech to a group of educators and predicted the number of printers in 15 years at 23,000 -- down from 60,000-plus. The audience was ready to tar and feather me. I also said they should not be teaching camerawork, stripping, or other analog functions. You see how I endear myself to my audience.
The printing industry will still need about 20,000 to 30,000 new employees every year to replace retirees. But the skillsets of these new employees will be totally different from their predecessors. The new skillsets will be IT-based, emphasizing digital printing and new workflows, especially cross-media workflows. The skillsets of the old printing industry are now shrink-wrapped -- they are computer programs. Like estimating and planning.
The first rule for all college degree programs is not to call the program printing. The word printing to a high schooler ranks somewhere above fast food and just below farming. No offense to farmers and burger flippers. Kids want dynamic careers. Yet, many of the people who talk to them about printing are the most boring people on the planet.
I think printing or graphic communication or graphic communications or whatever you call it is a dynamic career. The new generation of workers will not run presses or strip film -- they will integrate print and electronic media. They will put the “multi” in multimedia. Yet, many of our curriculums still spend too much time on the printing processes and not enough time on new workflows.
Even though there is a group that meets at GraphExpo every year that tries to bring together all educational and scholarship constituencies, we still have a mess. Scholarship money is routinely used to cover association overhead and even banquet “tables” rather than focusing on scholarships. Some want to use scholarship money to funds the promotion print -- which is also another disaster.
It is all inter-related -- if we do a good job promoting print and creating curriculums that cover the real direction of the industry and use scholarship money wisely, we can move our industry ahead. Or we can all bicker about high schoolers without ever talking to one and try to grab the money to keep associations alive or for purposes not intended.
As is, we are cheating the students who will become the future of the industry -- as well as the industry itself.