Training tracks

Simon Creasey
Wednesday, February 12, 2020

Print business owners face a major dilemma. There is currently a significant skills shortage within the industry, which has a rapidly ageing workforce. There is also a lack of young people entering the sector to redress the balance. This combination of factors creates a conundrum for print business owners.

Do they invest in training up the next generation of printers knowing full well that they might take that newly acquired knowledge and move to a rival business – or industry sector – when a better salary and incentive package are waved in front of them? Or do they just muddle on with what they have and hope that continuous improvements in print technology mean that the traditional skills associated with the sector essentially become redundant?

While it appears that many print business owners have opted for the latter approach, there are a number of successful print businesses out there that have got their heads around this issue and are up-skilling their workforce to make them more productive and ensure they are getting the most out of their people and their machinery.

One company that wholeheartedly believes in the benefits of training up staff is Nationwide Print. Managing director, Julian Hocking, says that employees across the business regularly receive training as and when knowledge gaps are identified.

“On any new digital presses we have training provided by the manufacturer,” says Hocking. “We just had a new perfect binder and a new Stitchliner installed and there was quite extensive training provided on those. With our MIS we also have an external guy in for several days doing training.”

He adds that all training at the company is self-funded and generally speaking is provided by external people. “We are printers and we’re
good at printing, but trainers are professional, and they are good at what they do.”

Another company that shares a similar attitude towards training as Hocking is Windles Group. According to Michelle Mills, Windles’ business development and marketing manager, “empowering knowledge” is a key part of the company’s ethos.

“Every day is a learning day, and sharing our skills with one another is what strengthens our team,” says Mills. “At Windles Group our staff are our family. Without our family we would not be the successful company that we are.”

To this end the firm has put in place a number of initiatives. This includes an annual appraisal system and an induction scheme that enables all new employees to experience every department in the company.

“The scheme is flexible as anyone can revisit any areas at any time they wish,” says Mills. “We are aware that you don’t know what you don’t know and over time getting another learning opportunity is even more rewarding for the individual. If a new machine is implemented in the factory, teams are invited to see a demonstration and are provided with everything there is to know about it.”

Additionally, the company offers apprenticeships and works with the BPIF to access the federation’s training programmes (see boxout), which are available to all members of staff. Windles also arranges for an English language teacher to come in on a weekly basis and provide lessons for employees for whom English is not their mother tongue. And the company operates a group technical update training programme, which Mills says has been a great success.

“Available to everyone in the business, sessions are pre-booked on an online system so that people can attend when it suits them and their team best,” she explains. “Every department gets involved and the idea is to present everything about each area in the business to others. This has not only brought the team closer, but helps with staff increasing their knowledge.”

She adds that the weekly courses are delivered by the company’s directors and managers and cover a broad range of areas such as binding, CAD, finishing and digital printing, through to compliance, customer service, finance, IT, packing, management techniques, printing and cold foiling, platens, pre-press, production and scheduling, sales, thermography and warehouse.

“Each course lasts a total of 40 minutes,” says Mills. “There is a 30-minute presentation with a 10-minute question and answer session at the end. Afterwards a 12-point test is carried out online by those that attended. This demonstrates an understanding of the specific process that then forms part of their annual performance appraisal and highlights any areas for further training.”

Windles clearly takes investment in its staff seriously. As does Northern Flags, where trainee Paisley Woods was runner up in the Trainee of the Year category at the 2019 PrintWeek Awards.

“The philosophy we have is any person could go and buy the presses, but what separates you is how efficient you can be in the quality on those printers in the production side and also how efficient you are and how nice you are at dealing with your customers, and that’s all down to your people,” says Northern Flags’ managing director Iain Clasper-Cotte. “If we’re being honest there’s a huge overcapacity in wide-format print at the moment, so our view is that what we need to do is make sure that we have as small a team as possible to produce as much as possible and deal with as many clients as possible. The only way you can do that is employ the best people and really encourage
multi-skilling.”

So if he hires someone who at a previous company worked as a printer, they will be immediately trained up on the company’s finishing equipment so that they can be moved around the business as and when required. He says this approach has worked out well for the company and cites the example of Woods, who was recently promoted to team leader.

“Initially she joined us as an apprentice on the sewing kit,” says Clasper-Cotte. “But it became very obvious in the first month we were working with her that she had a lot more to give us and that actually that [apprenticeship] training programme would have slowed her down. So we took her off the apprenticeship and put her straight on the payroll and on an ongoing coaching plan. She quickly mastered the sewing – in fact she mastered everything – and now she’s one of our best printers. She’s probably one of the youngest team leaders in the industry and she’s a real star.”

He says that although the company has received some financial assistance for apprenticeships all other training has been self-funded. Some print business owners may not be willing to invest in team members in the way Clasper-Cotte has done because they fear employees may take their new-found skill set elsewhere. To mitigate this threat at Northern Flags Clasper-Cotte introduced a very straight forward policy.

“What we say to people is we’re happy to fund external training – no problem – and if they stick around for two years the debt is cleared, but if they decide to leave within two years they have to pay it back,” he says. “We’ve only had to do that [recoup training money] with one person ever.”

Despite his willingness to continuously invest in people and offer all manner of different incentives, Clasper-Cotte says the company has really struggled, particularly over the past year, to hire good quality school leaver apprentices and graduates and he says that he’s never happy with the business’s attrition rates.

It’s a similar situation across the printing industry and one that Garry Richmond, director of Print Scotland, knows all too well. “For me [the] training of apprentices is vitally important as we have a relatively high average age profile in the print industry and we need new blood to sustain the industry and maintain succession plans,” says Richmond.

He adds that training up members of staff is vitally important because it helps companies to improve performance, increases employee engagement and retention and is also “cost-effective when compared to “having to recruit a replacement because they left to further themselves,” says Richmond. “When describing the importance of training I’ve always liked the old one about the production manager saying ‘what happens if I train my staff and they leave,’ to which the HR manager replies ‘what happens if we don’t train them and they stay’.”


Print industry training provision

Although the printing industry faces a significant skills shortage at the moment, the good news is there are plenty of different individuals and organisations offering training across the different print disciplines. The leading provider of apprenticeships within the industry is the BPIF, which offers a range of different training programmes, from a Level 2 print apprenticeship to a Level 5 management programme.

“Our highly skilled trainers have wide occupational experience in the printing industry and are experts in the programmes in which they deliver allowing apprentices and employers to benefit from the best current industry practice,” explains Karly Lattimore, managing director training at the BPIF. “As well as our experienced trainers, we are able to support you with identifying skills gaps within your organisation and providing tailored apprenticeship solutions. Whether you are an apprenticeship levy paying organisation who is uncertain about how to allocate your levy pot, or if you are a smaller printer who needs support to access funding, we are able to support you to develop your workforce and create the print industry of the future.”

Some companies may lack the financial resources to put in place a solid training and development plan for all members of staff, but Print Scotland’s Garry Richmond says these businesses needn’t despair because “there are many good online courses now, which are cost effective and can add genuine value and contribute to staff morale”.

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