Screen Printing - June/July 2018 - 36
CALL IT EDUCATION
We all know the nuances and intricacies of the
printing industry - but how do we get everyone
else in on the secret that print is everywhere?
ANDY MACDOUGALL, ASDPT
'm sitting here conflicted. The Skills Canada national
competition is going on around me, with 550 kids from across
the country, provincial winners in an array of skilled trade
categories, everything from cooking to carpentry, electronics
to animation, plumbing to pastry - and nothing to do with
print. Any kind of print.
I'm going to get off my screen printing horse and trade it
for a Ford - a "Bowers edition" 2018 version of the print community, that big swirling mass of screen, digital, flexo, 3D,
offset, pad, and whatever else is out there. We are gigantic,
in Canada, the US, and around the world. So why is there no
print at a skilled trades event?
My homies from the Academy who have gotten involved
with Skills USA told me they had nothing going on until a few
years ago as well. They had to pitch a mock competition at an
event, and, according to James Ortolani, tricked the organizers into checking it out by printing dye sub mugs with each
committee person's image, which they had to come get from
the demonstration. After that, it became part of the competition, and now over 25 states compete and send finalists to the
national championships in screen printing. I've never been
to the event in the US; I'm sure it is larger than ours, but how
well are the various print trades represented?
Here we are, this large sector of the economy that actually
had the most employees of any industry in North America
at the end of the 1990s. And although offset (and screen
printing) have shrunk since then, the gains in digital printing
have probably more than made up for the loss. Look around
you. All those buses and buildings, sports arenas and events,
T-shirts and printed garments. All those cell phones and solar
cells. More print than ever is on display. Somebody is making
it, but somehow the education and awareness around it is not
connecting our industry with the bright kids coming up.
Is print boring? No. Young people flock to it.
Is it too fringe or expensive to offer in schools? No. I've
personally been told stories of graphic arts teachers reinvigorating their programs with screen printing and having waiting
lists. The school district in Renton, Washington, was so
pleased that they bought an automatic press for the class and
are saving big money district-wide getting the students to run
shirt jobs for clubs and activities.
Are there no jobs? The most common refrain I hear from
owners is their inability to find trained workers. I know from
30-plus years in the printing trenches that we struggled with this
problem, and our only solution was to train people ourselves.
My theories for this lack of representation in the school
system and the technical trade organizations that support
learning in all the various job classifications are multilayered,
and they're my own. They are not necessarily shared by the
magazine, SGIA, or the education system.
First off, we teach screen printing as art, in the art class.
That's all well and good as an introduction for kids, but most
teachers, even the ones with printmaking backgrounds, have
little or no knowledge of the wider world of commercial
printing and the new technologies involved. To my knowledge, not many in our industry staple mesh on wood frames
and then paint on their stencils, yet this is typical of printing
in schools. No wonder everyone thinks it's dead.
We are also dealing with a systemic problem in the school
system - the fine art vs. graphic design/commercial art divide.
There is a whole industry where the designer or artist is only
one part of a much larger creative production team, but the
students never see it. We need to do a better job with the teachers and schools to inform them about the various pathways
kids can take, the types of jobs, and the products we create.
Second, the industry shoots itself in the foot. I get that you
don't want to enable competition, but closing your shop to
visitors, closing your mind to new methods and techniques,
and treating what you do like a super-secret process does no
one any good. For sure, we have some good people who go
out of their way to share their knowledge. But if you are an
owner who doesn't make a point of encouraging workers to
constantly learn, how the hell will you attract younger people
who are looking for a dynamic, growing company that embraces technology and new products and processes?
Third, SGIA needs to somehow get it across to business,
government, and the education system that print is not dead.
Print (especially functional print) powers this world, graphic
and textile print decorates it, and offset and all the others
inform it. I know the mandate is to serve member companies, but the plain truth is the membership of SGIA does not
include the majority of specialty printers. SGIA needs to raise
the awareness in the general population of all the things we
do. We have the ability. Can you imagine every printer taking part in a National Print Day, where they unveil not just
to their clients but also to the general public a coordinated
advertising campaign that showcases print - from gigantic
building wraps to T-shirts, posters, and whatever you happen
to make. Show people that a solar cell is printed, that a car
contains hundreds of printed components, and that all those
appliances are controlled by a printed interface. Because the
public doesn't know this is print.
But when they do know, then maybe we get some new
recruits into this business. What do you think?
Andy MacDougall is a screen printing trainer and consultant based on
Vancouver Island in Canada and a member of the Academy of Screen
& Digital Printing Technology. If you have production problems you'd
like to see him address in "Shop Talk," email your comments and
questions to firstname.lastname@example.org.