Fact: the printing industry needs 60,000 new employees every year to replace those who leave the workforce, for whatever reason. Where do replacement workers (new hires) come from? About half come from other printing companies because it is far easier to hire someone who already has the required skills than expend the time and cost of training someone from scratch.
The other half come mostly from schools. About thirty percent come from high schools and fifteen percent from 2-year and 4-year colleges. The last five percent come from trade or manufacturer schools and other sources.
Some companies have exceptional training programs. On a visit to Quad Graphics facilities a few years ago, I was impressed with every worker I met -- many of them having come to Quad right out of high school. But Quad also recruits college graduates to bring new thinking and new ideas to their company.
For the most part, high school kids do not want to be printers. Printing rates just above fast food and just below farming in the minds of high schoolers. Thus, they do not enter the industry and they do not pursue printing at the college level. At one time we graduated over 4,000 Bachelor's and Master's degree students; today it is under 1,000.
The problem began around 1990, when high school administrators converted graphic arts programs that used offset duplicators to desktop publishing with PCs. High school students were no longer "touched" by printing. They spent more time creating logos and art. From that point, enrollment in college printing programs declined and enrollment in college design programs increased. There are 18,000 graphic design majors in 152 four-year programs conferring BA and BFA degrees with 3,500 graduated annually (NASAD). Count 2-year degrees and the number could be as high as 40,000. There are only jobs for seven of them.
On the other hand, almost every graduate of college printing programs has a job or job offer.
A few years ago, a well-intentioned effort was mounted by one of the industry associations to get high schoolers interested in printing as a career. Posters and brochures were created for high school guidance counselors. It described great jobs like estimator and planner. Give me a break. No high schooler, even a nerd, says "I want to be an estimator when I grow up." The committees that create this material just do not understand what motivates teenagers. Few groups have ever used focus groups and actually talked to students.
They have not even focused on the kids who work on high school newspapers and yearbooks. At least, these kids have been "touched" by printing
Without teens opting for printing at the college level, we will suffer as an industry. Many of the printers who installed digital printing have done so with the involvement of college grads, because that is where they learned the basics of the technology. New workflows require graduates with IT and problem-solving skills. The integration of the Web into every facet of our business demands new skills.
No one manufacturer dominates the industry or ever will; no one workflow or system dominates or ever will. Printers must work with different equipment and software, blending traditional and digital skills. Print is high tech, exciting, and challenging. Yet, this message is not communicated.
Mike Stern, an RIT grad, comes back every year to recruit for Brown Printing. He shows videos of robotics and electronic workflows. Japs-Olsen, now becoming a nationwide printer, recruits at colleges regularly.
Annette Wolf Bensen works with high schools in the New York area, with little support from industry associations. She is one of a small band of people who realize that the future of the graphic arts begins at the high school. Where are the other student ambassadors who go back to the high schools to tell high schoolers about printing? Who would fund them? Our trade associations have millions of dollars in scholarship funds and are parsimonious when it comes to supporting the very foundation of our industry. Most scholarships are puny compared with the cost of a college education. We need to give fewer but larger scholarships -- no, we need to give more and larger scholarships.
For years, money poured into the New England Printing and Publishing Council for printing scholarships, now with $1.6 million in the bank. Yet, most of the scholarships go to graphic design students. I love graphic designers. But it is like the scientist who cloned rabbits - why? They do a good job reproducing on their own, and so do designers. I know that we need college-educated printers and we need them now.
Our industry is a patchwork of local and national associations, big and small schools, committees, media organizations, printing companies, suppliers, and individuals. If we could only get some of them to create a priority list and then focus on results, we could make a difference. We could start with printers who have hired high school and college graduates and then get those workers to visit local schools so that kids hear from their peers. The material they use should be cool - a kid's cool, not a middle-aged business executive's cool. It would not cost much but it could bring our industry to the attention of kids. They do grow. And, with them, so will our industry.