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Shop Talk: Grasping Skills

(August/September 2018) posted on Fri Oct 26, 2018

How exactly do screen printers today learn their craft?

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By Andy MacDougall

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. 


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