A golden opportunity to futureproof print

For more than a year now the numerous societal side-effects of the coronavirus pandemic have wreaked havoc on our day-to-day lives.

For many the effects of this disruption will continue long into the future, with young people one of the most adversely affected groups due to the closure of educational establishments, the loss of social interaction and experiences, and, in many cases, a narrowing of the career opportunities available to them in the future.

Covid has already brought with it hundreds of thousands of job losses, and some of the industries that have been decimated will now be less accessible to young people about to take their first step on the career ladder.

The print industry’s own recent wave of redundancies has exacerbated what was already a major issue; the loss of skills from the trade. Many skilled people have already left print over the past few years due to company closures, downsizing and consolidation, or due to retirement, and in some areas skills gaps are widening.

But print now has a golden opportunity to engage the young people that will steer the direction and fortunes of the industry in the future. Many are keen to take control of their prospects despite the turmoil around them and are starting to look seriously at industries and career paths that they may not have considered before.

New research from Sharp has found that 42% of 21-30-year-olds in the UK have serious concerns and anxieties about their job security in the future, with 30% anxious about a lack of career development opportunities. And 65% said career progression has become more important to them during lockdown than ever before.

Aware of the growing need to create new job opportunities, in last month’s budget chancellor Rishi Sunak laid out plans to boost training and apprenticeships.

He said the government would double the incentive payments it gives businesses to hire all new apprentices, of any age, to £3,000. It also announced new flexi-job apprenticeships, which are set to start in January 2022 and will allow apprentices to work for a number of different employers within the same sector.

A number of organisations are already helping companies in the industry to offer jobs and training to young people.

The BPIF says it can support printers with all of the funded initiatives under the government’s Plan for Jobs, including apprenticeships, traineeships and the Kickstart scheme, which enables employers to offer fully funded six-month work placements to 16-24-year-olds that are claiming Universal Credit.

BPIF managing director of training Karly Lattimore says the budget announcements “will go a long way” in supporting the sector to create more placements through the various initiatives.

“With the options available over the coming months businesses can really take the opportunity to develop their workforce, from creating high quality roles to support young people into their first career step in the print industry to addressing their own skills gaps further by employing people with valuable transferable skills and retraining for a career in print.”

Lattimore says the flexi-job apprenticeships – while targeted at sectors like TV and film which cannot typically offer long enough apprenticeships due to the way in which those industries work – could nevertheless help to support the post-Covid business recovery of print and other manufacturing sectors.

Arun Madar, business engagement manager for skills training at the BPIF, adds that engaging young people in traineeship and apprenticeship positions is logical for the industry’s succession planning.

“Many of the print professionals who are coming to the end of their career have built up years of industry knowledge, with many starting as an apprentice themselves; knowledge and experience that can be passed down to the younger workforce, so it’s vital that we give young people the opportunity for not only them, but the entire printing industry to benefit from.”

The EFIA runs a training academy which is intended to target the full print supply chain. Its consultant CEO Debbie Waldron-Hoines believes print and packaging is “a unique blend of technology and skill, both of which need proper training to be fully harnessed”.

“Our online eLearning Academy is the first nationally recognised platform of its kind for the industry, covering the full flexographic packaging lifecycle, from design to waste and recycling,” she says.

“Understanding best practice doesn’t just help trainees learn how best to operate complex machines or deliver a certain finish or style of packaging, it encourages creativity. A young person who better understands the technical elements of flexographic print often feels more confident suggesting new ways of working or creating new technologies. Training is never just for the individual; it serves the brand and the wider industry.”

Emily Clarke, key account manager at Graphic Packaging International, completed the degree-level Operations/Departmental Manager Level 5 qualification from the BPIF in February 2020.

Following this apprenticeship, she has since started the MSc in Management at the University of South Wales, which the BPIF and the Stationers’ Foundation have both supported her with.

“I think apprentices are the future, learning roles from the bottom up allows not only the individual to grow and develop but for organisations to have an impact and mould employees to fit their business,” she says.

“Apprenticeships allow both an individual and an organisation to adapt and they give clear progression plans.”

Like many young people, Clarke adds she did not know anything about print and packaging before being successful with her application to Graphic Packaging after looking for roles in a number of different industries.

Spread the word

While a lack of general awareness of the industry may in part be hampering print’s ability to attract young talent, some companies are regularly shouting about it, including Print-Leeds where managing director Rod Fisher held a virtual talk to students at Leeds Beckett University last month.

He says the group had “very little prior knowledge of the industry” but were interested to learn about Fisher’s own background, “and about how you can start off in a very small way and grow something to the extent that Print-Leeds has grown to today”.

“I think it’s critical that we get apprentices and young people in. We’ve got two apprentices at the moment; one training full-time on a press and another who can work all of our finishing kit. To have a 20-year-old who can work all of that is unusual these days, it’s how it used to be years ago.”

He adds: “We’ve done this for the last 25 years and some of those apprentices have ended up running print companies.”

The perceived image of print is another barrier to attracting young talent, and partly why The Printing Charity has this year changed the name of its Print Futures Awards to the Rising Star Awards.

Chief executive Neil Lovell says: “What’s relevant to today isn’t necessarily what used to be relevant in terms of how we describe the jobs in the sector and what people do.

“You want to be able to attract young people by describing the brilliant variety of things that the sector represents, from technical through to customer service, whatever that may be.”

He adds: “Print is a word that can be negative to certain groups of people because they see it in the old way of newspapers and this idea of manual labour, but the technical nature of the sector is so much greater now, as is the variety.”

Apprenticeships are generally seen as one of the major ways to help young people out of the jobless crisis caused by the pandemic. But the industry needs to come together and work harder at selling print’s modern image so that young talent doesn’t end up going elsewhere.

“I think engaging people at a younger level would be a great thing, because nobody really realises what print is, many think it’s just newspapers,” says Ian Doel, owner of Freelance Print Staff.

“If you did talks in schools and pointed out what was being manufactured, I think people would be quite amazed and that would buy more people into it from an early age.”

The BPIF’s Lattimore adds: “We need to look at how we engage and what message we want to give people about careers in print and light their fire about our industry. In a post-Covid world, whilst I understand time constraints and business demands, can we engage our local schools more in factory tours or work experience placements. Perhaps a national or regional campaign for print related careers?”

The final word goes to Graphic Packaging’s Clarke: “Social media could also be used more to promote it, as this is a platform used by the younger generation.”


Apprenticeships can be the best option for everyone

Jane Hickie, CEO, Association of Employment and Learning Providers

Whatever the state of the economy, apprenticeships are a great way to improve workforce productivity and deliver more social inclusion. In good times, employers are constantly looking to fill skills gaps and a choice of apprenticeship standards at all skill levels and across all business sectors offers them a ready-made solution. In addition, SMEs, which don’t pay the apprenticeship levy, have 95% of the cost of training and assessing an apprentice met by the state.

Young people like apprenticeships because they can earn while they learn. They can progress up to and including degree level and degree apprenticeships have grown increasingly popular in recent years. A young person can, for example, become a fully qualified accountant or lawyer via the apprenticeship route. A major reason why individuals of all abilities are opting for apprenticeships is that they avoid the debt which comes with going to university.

The pandemic has resulted in over 580,000 16-24-year-olds looking for work and the chancellor has very rightly identified that more training opportunities should be made available in response. In the recent budget, the financial incentives for employers to take on an apprentice were increased and a change was made so that the incentive was the same whatever the apprentice’s age. The increase will definitely make a difference, especially among smaller employers which have traditionally recruited young apprentices and apprentices at entry level. Entry-level recruitment is particularly important during a recession when older or unemployed people and career changers are looking for a job which comes with properly accredited training.

From 1 April, employers of all sizes can apply online for funds for apprenticeship training through the government’s apprenticeship service. Employers are recommended to draw on the expertise of a government registered training provider after first checking the provider’s Ofsted grades.


How important are apprentices to the future of print?

Stephen Docherty, group chairman, Bell & Bain

“Apprenticeships have never been more important than they are now. With the speed at which technology is moving, it’s getting harder to teach people how [a printed product] actually gets made before this box of tricks makes it for you. Now more than ever these skills will be getting lost in the sands of time. Most of our management team and assistant managers are ex-apprentices. We currently employ around 10 apprentices and we’re going to take on another four or five. We’re really trying to get more females involved in the manufacturing side; we’ve got a couple of young women at the minute who are just phenomenal.”

Colin Le Gresley, managing director, Aztec Label

“The importance of attracting young people to the industry cannot be overstated. We believe in hands-on, on-the-job training, and we are proud to offer routes into both the profession and a rewarding career. We support younger workers through apprenticeships – my son James qualified under the BPIF’s Apprenticeship scheme – and we currently have five colleagues under 22 training either directly on machines or waiting in the wings fulfilling assistance-based roles. We need to invest in youth and create opportunities for new blood to come through the ranks in order to continue delivering quality products and a quality service.”

Michael Green, managing director, MacroArt

“As part of our ‘Future Improvement’ plan launched in 2019, we committed to developing talented local young people via specialist training provider, Learn2Print, to help futureproof MacroArt’s ‘experience bank’. The scheme covers all aspects of our business. Today, we mentor four apprentices across the business, ranging from marketing to print and finishing, assisting their learning about both the industry and MacroArt’s values and ethos. Plans are in place to double this figure. These appointments form the next cohort of experience and capability for the future of our industry.”

Print’s rising stars… on print

Over the past 18 months Printweek has asked the industry’s rising stars what has surprised them most about working in print. Here are their thoughts:

"How technical print is and the evolving technology and science behind the scenes. Printing is very skilful and requires a lot training.”

"The tenure of my colleagues is really impressive. Everyone has at least 20-plus years in the trade.”

"How many opportunities there are. I’ve been really privileged to work in such a fast-growing, forward-thinking business, which has given me a huge amount of amazing opportunities to grow my skills and experience.”

"The dedicated and vigorous attitude of the people in the industry towards their work. This is found for those working the printing machines up to the managers at the top, and once people join the industry only a few leave.”

"How friendly and supportive the people are. It’s great to see people working together in such a positive way; everyone is great at communicating.”

"The impact print has in our everyday lives and the thought process behind it. For example, the artwork and colours, the chosen material and the size to get the brand message across to the consumers.”

"Just how involved it is: processes, compliance, disciplines and knowledge.”

"The amount of time and effort people are willing to put in, in order to fulfil the needs of the customer and to make the print an amazing finish. Also the equipment required and machinery used.”

"How much it continues to change!”