By John Berthelsen, VP-Development, Print & Graphics Scholarship Foundation
Executive leadership of companies across the country are facing a critical issue that affects the future sustainability of their business. It is the ability to recruit young people into the industry to replace a retiring and departing workforce. A couple of years ago I wrote an article (How to Get Students Interested in Print) outlining several tactics to increase your chances of success. I’d like to tell you a couple of stories that illustrate success and the positive results achieved by following some of these ideas.
First, I must give you some background on how a leading organization in the industry has been very proactive in working with students. About fifteen years ago, Suttle-Straus in suburban Madison, Wisconsin started a program with a local fifth grade teacher. Each year the students have a class project requiring them to seek out, interview, and photograph members of the community and write a short story about each person. The entire class effort is submitted to Suttle-Straus, who then formats it into a stitched booklet in full color. As a part of the project, the class comes to the plant to see how the process works and to receive the finished product. Following the tour and receipt of the books, each student writes a thank you note that is sent to the company.
Fifth graders tour Suttle-Straus to learn about production process.
Another annual project, now in its thirteenth year, is working with a local high school yearbook class to produce their yearbook. This is a very interactive process that involves the account manager working with the instructor and the students on paper choices, coating options, creative design considerations and budget from the time school starts in the fall until the final product is delivered in early June. The course teaches students InDesign skills, file prep and the how the print process works through interactive, hands-on learning. The students submit the files, proofs are delivered and approved by student editors and the entire yearbook staff comes to approve color on press and interact with all areas of production to understand the process in its entirety. A beautiful and unique case bound book is produced each year, many of which have won awards. While visiting the printer students are exposed to all aspects of the company, printed samples and examples, and the wide range of products and services offered by the company.
Recently, two members of the Suttle-Straus team participated in a Future Quest exposition held in their area. Mandatory attendance resulted in some 5300 eigth graders from all over the area participating in the event. Those attending were exposed to a video showcasing an exciting project relevant to the audience, the concept to completion process of a display imaging project for the University of Wisconsin basketball facility. (Go to https://www.suttle-straus.com/behind-the-design-uw-basketball-hallways to see it.) Many companies have discovered that waiting until high school is too late to influence the career choice of many students.
The team was on site and interacting with young people for six hours throughout the day. Following the presentation, one of the students came up to the company representatives and related how they were first exposed to the printer when they took the fifth grade class trip to see production of their book. He then said “I came to visit you for Mrs. Wells class and loved your company in fifth grade. I couldn’t wait to come back and see you.” He is now in eigth grade and loves the company and the industry.
The Future Quest career event held in Madison, Wisconsin.
During the recent Print Show in Chicago, about twenty vendors and service providers set up table top displays in the Workforce Development area on the last day. They were there to inspire the 700 area students that were visiting the show to learn more about the industry. One of them was Arandell Corp in Menomonie Falls, Wisconsin. I’m connected to their HR Director on LinkedIn and wandered over to say hello.
While there I met a young lady who is working as a CSR for the company. In the course of chatting with her I learned that she was a graduate of UW-Stout, which has an excellent graphics program. Then I was pleasantly surprised to learn that she is a graduate of Middleton High School and had spent two years in the program working on their yearbook. She related that it was her working with, and touring of, Suttle-Straus that put her on the path to pursue a career in graphic communications and to go to UW-Stout. And now she has a great job with a great company in the Milwaukee area.
If enough companies follow this kind of formula, we will certainly be able to have an impact on our workforce concerns. Don’t expect someone else to do it for you. It really isn’t that hard and PGSF has some tools that can help. Don’t get caught with your head in the sand. You can be proactive and you will see results.
For more information on PGSF, or how you can support its programs, visit www.pgsf.org or call me at 608-575-3904.
John Berthelsen retired from his position as CEO of Suttle-Straus in 2014, after leading the company for over 35 years. He is now working with individuals and companies to create the future employment workforce, support education and increase funding for the Foundation.