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Shop Talk: Change Has Come to America

(April/May 2019) posted on Thu May 30, 2019

The printing industry has adapted with the times, but that doesn’t mean everyone else has.

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By Andy MacDougall

Michael Makin, president and CEO of Printing Industries of America, has a different take. “Printing Industries of America (PIA) is disappointed – but not surprised – to learn of the Bureau of Labor Statistics’ announcement that the agency would no longer track jobs related to commercial print, screen printing, and support activities for printing,” Makin says. 

“The disappointment is shared by the approximately 800,000 workers in the printing, packaging, and publishing industries who go to work every morning knowing that their jobs are relevant to the nation’s manufacturing economy.”

“The lack of surprise relates to the fact that PIA has urged the Bureau of Labor Statistics multiple times over a number of years to revise its outdated definition of the printing industry,” Makin says. “Print has and will continue to evolve as a media, and printers will continue to transition with a diverse mix of processes, products, and ancillary services. Unfortunately, the BLS has demonstrated it is less than interested in keeping up with the times and in collaborating with PIA on modern industry definitions that would more accurately reflect that print is alive and thriving as a key manufacturing sector. Simply put, it is the BLS data as collected that is irrelevant, not printing and graphics communications jobs.”

Makin is correct. BLS doesn’t count many of you readers as being in the print industry. They don’t count our specialized graphics people, in-plant printing operations, or the dedicated artists, printers, processors, and installers in digital graphic or textile shops. They don’t count electronics printers, glass and bottle printers, or credit card manufacturers. They exclude textile printers. They do include print making under the category of craft and fine artist (2018).  

I’ve experienced the same problem in Canada, where “printer” is not classified as a skilled trade by the Industry Training Authority (ITA). This lack of recognition manifests itself in support for education, training, industry growth, and rebuilding our manufacturing sectors. If the government doesn’t recognize it as a trade, or segment of industry, three things happen:

• It kills access to any job-specific training funds under skills development programs.

• It blocks access to young workers. (How will they know there is a career path if it’s not listed with other job categories?)

• It cripples the potential for sectors of print that could grow domestically. As print has evolved into a manufacturing process used in electronics, medical devices, and alternative energy (among many other distinct industrial sectors), the print capabilities, knowledge, and technological know-how required in these promising areas requires support. 

What should scare us is the Department of Labor’s lack of interest in changing their definitions of print and printers to reflect the wide diversity and rapid technological changes that have transformed the industry. This begs the question: What other sectors of the economy are being adversely affected by the inability of a government department to change outdated criteria and labels to reflect technological change? We’re special, but we’re not that special.

Speaking of special: This one’s for my editor/publisher/pal Steve Duccilli. Not sure what the future brings, but I will miss giving you gray hairs every deadline. We’re not done yet. 

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



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