Where Have All The Schools Gone?

Several months ago I ran across commentary from individuals criticizing the industry for its lack of commitment in supporting educational institutions and training.  While I agree that we have some real issues facing us regarding workforce development, attempting to re-create the trade/vocational programs in the high schools to solve this problem may not be viable – for a whole host of reasons. 

The major one being that over the past decade, high school programs have focused on academic learning and don’t have the want, structure, fortitude or dollars to deal with technology training for our industry – or for that matter — many manufacturing industries.  Although we are seeing some movement toward “career” training, the structure and focus will be very different from the vocational educational model prevalent in the last century.

During my twenty+ year tenure with PIA, I’ve seen a variety of ideas regarding career awareness and industry training. My predecessor, Nolan Moore during his nearly 30-year career serving the industry helped develop a variety of programs (and films) regarding career awareness.  The films/videos were great pieces and made many feel good – but they never lived up to their potential.  Why?  Lack of continuous passion and commitment. 

Every time a program was started, it was because a handful of leaders had a passion to recruit for the industry.  They needed employees, or they were passionate about the need for education.  When the programs finally started spinning up – normally months to years later, guess what happened?  Those passionate leaders no longer needed employees. There were other pressing issues and recruiting employees was not one of them.

Now that I’ve thrown extremely cold water on this whole topic, what do I believe?

We do need people and training.  But the recruiting and training has to be done by the individuals and organization who are close to the action.  It’s not the bailiwick of the academic institutions.  Institutions move in a very stately fashion.  There are committees to be created – because the folks running the institution don’t really understand the problem – or they just see one facet.  The committees which get created only see the problem from their VERY narrow view.  And when you have an extremely large and fragmented industry like ours – only a small handful of firms will like the solution – and too often, there is not enough critical mass for the program, created by an industry subset, to succeed.

So, am I ready to throw in the towel.  Nope.

We need to realize that we have to go back to the good ‘ol days.  How did someone become a printer?  They apprenticed.  They learned on the job.  That’s the way individuals were taught their craft.  We also have to realize that in today’s high-tech world it no longer takes four to five years to become a “journeyman.”  It may only be a matter of months.  Thus, we will have to rethink our compensation methodology; otherwise, the bright individuals we need for the backbone of our industry will find employment somewhere else.

Is there a role for institutions?  Yes, and we are starting to see some glimmers in academia that technology/vocational programs are considered viable for students, but don’t expect to see printing programs blossoming and trained craftsman coming from these programs. As is being witnessed in Kansas, the students will be taught visual media (my phrase), which will include design, photography, web development and yes, print.  The job of our secondary programs will be to expose young people to potential opportunities in the visual media field – it’s up to us to provide them job opportunities and training.

Printing Industries of America has excellent publications and offers outstanding train-the-trainer programs.  There are and will be post-secondary print-centric programs, many which already exist, which will provide much more specific training for industry professionals,  but it’s the company, who needs those employees and training, who will have to implement the training.  Not the institutions.

Want to see success stories?  There out there.  Go to Lubbock, or Sedalia or Wichita. The printers in those areas don’t have a large base of skilled potential employees or educational programs to draw from — but they find workers, train them and succeed.  Why can’t everyone?


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