BPIF initiative offers new start for sector apprenticeships

By Jez Abbott, Monday 23 March 2015

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Last week, print’s demographic timebomb – a result of the shortage of training for young joiners and an ageing workforce – ceased ticking.


The BPIF halted the countdown – for now – after winning trailblazer status from the government for a new initiative on apprenticeships backed by a training consortium.

The federation-led group includes small and large print companies supported by Proskills, the Printing Charity and Unite. It will, among other things, set unified industry standards. For this to happen, says BPIF training programme director Ursula Daly, companies must come together to define standards for printers, print finishers and pre-press operatives. 

This, she says, will take a year before proposals go out to consultation to the industry to get a feel for the “peaks and troughs” of the different print sectors. The group includes De La Rue and is chaired by Ryedale Group whose managing director, James Buffoni, insists the team has the skills and communication infrastructure to deliver.

“Communication is vital,” he explains. “I don’t agree print has a bad reputation, but not enough noise is being made about the benefits of what was once seen as a trade for ‘inky fingers’. I’m not sure how many more apprentices there are in print, but I do believe 100% that the industry can do a better job at self promotion, which in turn will attract a younger crowd.

“One of the things we can do to improve the perception among young people and promote the industry is to explain regularly and clearly all the wins and positives. It’s a huge industry and a significant contributor to GDP. We have just as many creative, clever people as the online world but don’t talk about it and therefore don’t get anywhere near as big a profile.”

He welcomes another recent BPIF initiative, which drew together 11 print apprentices last month to produce a brochure promoting apprenticeships to schools in the run-up to National Apprenticeship Week, which ran from 9 to 13 March. The team designed a 4pp publication on the theme of ‘The biggest industry you’ve never thought of...’ (See p12.)

This hits a raw nerve with Buffoni who singles out a recent research finding that e-readers held a market share of only 20% of the books market, despite a maelstrom of media focus. Such a modest slice belies all that media hype and all those newspaper column inches dedicated to the unstoppable onslaught of Kindles. For those who say print is dead, Buffoni has three words: “the paperless office”. 

But getting that message over to youngsters is proving hard. The tough economy has not helped usher in young people: “A lot of older people in management have held on to the reins perhaps longer than they would have because it’s been hugely challenging. But as things start to improve and as fresh post-recession thinking emerges, the young talent must, and will, come through.”

Buffoni is a perfect pin-up for print: fresh-faced, driven, successful: “I’m 34 and see print as a crucial part of the visual media landscape,” he says. “I have been here since I was 23; back then the industry was run by people twice my age and most of them men. It is healthy to move on and shake it up – young people are key to this momentum.”

Remous Print managing director Alan Bunter echoes Buffoni that it’s hard to give a definitive answer on just how much more popular apprenticeships are becoming in print – according to the BPIF, there are currently around 1,000 apprentices, and 650-700 of those are on the books of BPIF Training. But the mood is upbeat, he says.

“The training and skills agenda seems to be on the up and there’s a bit of a buzz, from what tutors tell me. This makes sense; print is adapting, point-of-sale work with its big banners, for example, is more exciting and it’s capturing the imagination of young people. There’s a blurring of lines between design and print and the different print genres. People want print on paper and don’t care if it’s digital or litho.

“What this means is there are different expectations on the industry and, just as importantly, expectations and ambitions from those entering it are changing. It’s no longer a case of people entering an industry with a linear career path and telling their friends ‘I’m a litho printer and that’s all I’ll do for the rest of my working life’. Training must, and is, changing to reflect that.”

Bunter reckons that agreeing a new set of standards for print apprenticeships will help put across a more unified, confident message and will ultimately attract more apprentices. He welcomes the consortium. After all, until quite recently training had been a bit of a postcode lottery with some youngsters in rural areas having to travel a couple of hours to see a training provider.

Things are better, but “having a central organisation to monitor, test and measure training is important”, says Bunter.

Baker Goodchild managing director Lorraine Burnell agrees: “Pulling together a clearer structure on training and standards can only be good, but it has to work at all levels; it’s not purely down to groups like the BPIF or training providers to take the lead.

“It’s equally important for individual businesses to show leadership. We have a thorough recruitment process, advertise online and through colleges and have a three-stage interview process. We also invest in the kind of modern machinery that not only makes us better but attracts the kind of young people we want working with us, and who want to work with us.”

Opinion: Employer-led approach is key to successful schemes

charles-jarroldCharles Jarrold, chief executive, BPIF

A number of common themes have emerged during my first few months at the BPIF, and right at the top of the list is the issue of attracting capable people into our sector. To do this, we need to ensure that, along with an attractive working environment and the right employment terms, we offer excellent and progressive training pathways.

Within hours of starting at the BPIF, I was asked to get involved in designing apprenticeship standards, with feedback from the government indicating that a common approach would be welcomed. 

There’s a shared belief across a wide range of organisations in the benefits of apprenticeship schemes, so a strong consortium including the BPIF and leading sector organisations, Proskills, The Printing Charity and Unite was formed. 

The government rightly insists that apprenticeship design programmes are led by employers, large and small, public and private, and demonstrates the diversity within print. The employer-led approach aims to ensure that the standards are relevant, valuable, and appropriate to the sector as a whole.

The BPIF is extremely experienced at both designing and delivering apprenticeships at all levels, nevertheless, the core of an apprenticeship is the relationship between the employer and trainee as this determines the success of a programme.

But the investment in time and energy from all parties clearly pays dividends as research shows that the great majority of companies developing apprentices are more productive as a result.

At the BPIF we’re excited at the prospect of continuing to make the sector attractive to both those at the start of their careers, and to those already within the sector. Starting with great apprenticeships and continuing the training pathways with higher apprenticeships to build on these foundations, as for example with our soon to be completed Level 5 foundation degree, training will go a long way to making this a reality. 

Reader reaction: How can print companies attract the younger generation?

ross-bellottiRoss Bellotti, managing director, Kingfisher Print & Design

“We have two apprentices and want two more; it’s important to reflect how exciting print has become in terms of web-to-print and digital work. It’s important for us to embrace the internet to recruit youngsters. We advertise on Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn and when we have apprentices we encourage them to spread the good word through social media such as blogs. Now the recession is lifting, it’s a good time for the industry to recruit fresh new talent.”

stuart-masonStuart Mason, production director, Tradeprint.co.uk

“You have to be careful in your recruitment: we have a four-stage process and offer tours of the factory. Training in Scotland is shockingly abysmal; we don’t have a statutory body driving training and I think the Scottish government is missing a trick – we need government intervention in training – but so too are print businesses. It’s easy to be put off using apprentices, it’s time consuming and hard work. But the dividends pay off; we have four highly motived apprentices who bring lots to the business.”

andrew-gallowayAndrew Galloway, managing director, Galloways

“In the past the industry has been rubbish at attracting youngsters. But more recently the BPIF has come up with some good initiatives, such as last month’s schools’ brochure – it’s a shame the word print was missing from the cover. But businesses have to get out and forge links with schools and once they’ve attracted apprentices, offer them structured training and a definite career path. Young people need to know what they can expect at the end of training, be they apprentices or undergraduates.”

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