Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Where have all the students gone?

Where have all the students gone?
By Frank Romano


July 13, 2007 -- 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.

Where have all the students gone? Part deux

By Frank Romano

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:

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