Grasping Skills

How exactly do screen printers today learn their craft?

In my last column, I was ranting a bit about education in our industry. I reread it and saw some areas that could have been a bit clearer, but overall it covers (my view of) the systemic disconnect between the availability of structured secondary and post-secondary training in screen/specialty printing and one of the most pressing problems we face: the lack of young, trained workers. 

The industry is largely self-taught. There are some notable exceptions to this declaration: Take a look at past and future winners of SkillsUSA, the ASDPT Tom Frecska Student Printing Competition, and the SGIA Scholarship Program. They recognize smart, talented, educated young people with serious chops, who are ready to work, improve, and help grow any shop they land a job at in the future. 

But they are the exceptions to the rule. Literally thousands of workers come into screen or digital shops each year who have never been in a print shop in their lives. How did they learn? There are four main educational pathways. Some of them lead to others. 

1. Teaching yourself, by yourself

This is the entry point for the masses. It starts with a kit for a birthday or a sudden inspiration or need – a shirt for your band, a late-night purchase of a Yudu Personal Screen Printer on the shopping channel. It can end badly with a mess on a kitchen table or stains in the bathtub. On the other hand, many of the shops in existence today were started by people who taught themselves. So, is this a good way to learn? The outcomes are either:

• Abject failure and immediate career arc termination 

• Moderate success leading to eventual failure

• Ongoing success and a growing business

One of the advantages of screen printing is that no agency or certification body oversees the training or quality of product. So, any idiot can call themselves a screen printer. Many do. The advent of the interwebz and Facebook and YouTube have replaced the EZ Silkscreen Method Manual. Today, a lot of free advice is available online. But you can also watch 200 YouTube videos on how to make slime; I know because my granddaughter is obsessed with them. Most of her attempts end in lumpy things going down the drain. The same holds true for a lot of how-to silkscreen videos. 

2. Getting taught by the person who is leaving at the end of the week, who got taught by the guy who left before the guy before

It’s probably the second most common screen printing education scenario. A variation of this is an owner who doesn’t know how any of the screen equipment operates, but the printer just quit/got fired/never showed up.

This can lead back to #1, or onward to #3 or #4. The biggest difference between this and teaching yourself is the need to produce commercial, saleable work right away. On the plus side, the shop is probably not putting out top-level work anyway, so a person who can quickly grasp basics, has some luck, and can follow instructions might have a better than 50 percent chance of banging out a job and getting to the next one without a serious failure. Theoretically, the shop will have functioning equipment, and that might be the crucial difference that separates this from scenario #1. On the other hand, if the person doing the teaching has no clue how or why a thing is done a certain way, there’s a good chance what is being taught might not be correct.

3. Investing in workshops, seminars, consultants, etc.

Recognizing you have a problem and getting help holds true in screen printing as well as many other areas of the human condition. Those of you who are familiar with the four stages of competence and the Dunning-Kruger effect might recognize these ideas in screen printing. Investigations of the phenomenon, such as David Dunning’s Why People Fail to Recognize Their Own Incompetence, indicate that many incorrect self-assessments derive from a person’s ignorance of a given activity’s standards of performance. Research by Dunning and Justin Kruger also indicates that training in a task increases people’s ability to accurately evaluate how good they are at it. 

The most common way to access training in screen printing is to attend a workshop or seminar, or bring in a consultant who can raise workers from the “conscious incompetent” level to “conscious competent.” If a person – and this holds true in any profession – is at the lowest level (“unconscious incompetent”), they essentially don’t know how stupid they are. We all know this person. If that person is your boss, find another job. Plenty of shops are looking for someone who will work at learning in order to learn to work, and who will therefore do their job better every day. Which brings us to the fourth scenario.

4. Learning through a structured training program/apprenticeship at a company run by skilled personnel

Oops! I hit my word count. Let’s pick up here in the next issue and have a look at a few shops that do this type of training. In the meantime (especially readers who might fit into scenarios #1, #2, or #3), take advantage of the opportunity to attend seminars at the upcoming SGIA show, or sign up for a workshop or training session this fall. 

 

Read more from the August/September issue or more of Andy MacDougall's columns.

View more from this Screen Printing issue