In this series, I have been looking at the challenge that every printer knows the industry is facing, the diminishing flow of new talent coming into the industry, but few seem to know what to do about it.
Several months ago, I began working with Jeff White, director of development for the Print and Graphics Scholarship Foundation (PGSF), to dig a little deeper into this issue. Jeff was gracious enough to send out an email soliciting the insight of an under-utilized resource: the teachers of the high school graphic arts programs training much of this new talent. What are they seeing? What ideas do they have for keeping that pipeline flowing? I wasn’t surprised by how helpful they were. I was surprised by how grateful they were to be asked, which strongly suggests that they are not being pulled into the conversation as often as they should.
In Part 1 of this series, I looked at what is actually happening inside these schools. How many students are in these programs and how many go into the industry after graduation? Very quickly, the depth of the problem became apparent. Teachers described the number of students in their classes as dropping, and of those who remain, how few actually go into print as a career afterwards. Of those who do go into the industry, most go on to two- or four-year colleges, where they train to go into front-office jobs, not production. The takeaway is clear: the flow of talent into the industry is not going to fix itself.
In Part 2, I looked at graphic arts teachers’ suggestions for what printers can do to help turn this around. Their suggestions fell into six categories, including doing more to raise the visibility of print as a viable career and creating entry-level jobs for students once they graduate. In order to do this, they said, printers should be working in cooperation (not in parallel) with the graphic arts schools to provide a natural path from graduation right into a career.
But are printers doing it? In Part 3, we’ll look at what graphic arts teachers have to say about that.
Who’s Responsibility Is It?
The answer is, not nearly enough. There is the occasional printer working with these schools and developing apprenticeship programs (see the report I wrote in Printing Impressions: “The Aging Workforce: It’s Not Somebody Else’s Problem to Solve”), for which I interviewed Think Patented (Miamisburg, Ohio), Suttle-Straus (Waunakee, Wis.), and Heeter (Canonsburg, Pa.). But it’s not enough. More printers need to be doing the same. Even if you aren’t developing your own apprenticeship program, these educators say, there is a lot you can do to raise the visibility of print as a viable career path. Number one is to simply open your doors.
“In my 18 years of teaching, students have appreciated storytelling, field trips to actual events and job sites, participating in contests, watching groundbreaking films, and mostly being exposed to the products of graphic art and design,” one teacher explains. “I have worked with teachers who rely on the apps to draw in students or a series of senseless YouTube videos, and it is not enough. Print is a major topic, but I have found success in making students feel as if they are already in the industry rather than treating them like they are not ready.”
Because of the long-term benefits to everyone involved—printers, graphic arts programs, and students—teachers in these schools are mystified why more printers aren’t doing it. For some, it’s not happening at all.
“No printers have reached out to us,” notes one teacher. “We mostly have small mom-and-pop places in our area, and they don’t necessarily have the time or inclination to get that involved when they are so busy running their own business. Like most small shops, they tend to be more reactive than proactive. I have to go to them rather than them coming to me. They can handle a one-day event such as a career day, but that is about as far as they are willing to go.”
The Challenge of Location
This teacher described the frustration of reaching out repeatedly to one of the printers in town and getting very little response. “We have asked her to review students’ work and give us feedback. No response. Locally, there are very few printers left anyway. We did take our students to a local printer in [location]. They gave us a tour. That was five years ago.”
Some of this is lack of initiative on the part of printers. Some of it is simply location. Many of these schools are in rural locations where few printers are located.
Says one teacher, “I would say on the most part that local printers (which are all between 20 to 50 miles away) have not necessarily been proactive toward us as most do not realize we exist. There are so few graphic arts programs in the state that it seems that most businesses aren’t aware of the ones that are. That is why the field trips are so important, because not only do they educate the students about the industry, but they educate printers that we’re here. There seems be little advertising on the part of the industry to the industry to let them know that the school programs do exist.”
Adds another: “We’ve joked that we aren’t the end of the world, but you can see if from here. Some printers from further away do contact us now and then when they have needed new employees. Pre-COVID, we would take field trips of shops within 45 miles so the kids could see what the real world was like and let area businesses know we are here. I would recommend that any school take their students on field trips [not just because it provides insight into the real world of print, but because] it opens communication between the school and the businesses.”
“One Employee...Coming Up!”
While these and other graphic arts teachers say that most printers they have contacted have been very open to student visitors, it’s they—the graphic arts schools—that have to reach out, not the other way around. Yet the benefits to these printers are substantial. In fact, one of the schools responding to Jeff’s email has delivered future employees to shops 1½ to 2½ hours away. It’s worth reaching out!
The school can benefit from these relationships, as well. Once those partnerships are established, some printers have donated equipment and materials that the schools can then turn around and use to train more future workers in the industry: “In some cases,” one teacher beams, “we `had so much we have been able shared it with a number of other schools.”
So take the time to reach out, make those connections, and build those relationships. The graphic arts schools need those relationships, the students need those relationships, and printers need them, too. If you’ve been looking for an invitation to make that first call, here it is! You’ve got one.