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Understanding Our Industry’s Labor Shortage

(December/January 2018) posted on Wed Jan 30, 2019

You may experience the symptoms of a tight labor market each time you place an ad on Indeed, but the roots of the problem in specialty printing run much deeper.

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By Johnny Shell

Part of the problem stems from the fact that many of the programs that have been shut down were focused on commercial and publication printing. Successful programs have evolved to embrace specialty printing technologies that are of high interest to students today – meaning that these programs often produce students that are better grounded in what our segments of the industry do. “Offset printing continued to decline, so we removed it a few years ago,” says Pam Smith, graphic communications instructor at Monroe Advanced Technical Academy (MATA), Leesburg, Virginia. “We’ve focused on technology platforms like wide-format inkjet, dye sublimation, and screen printing that captivate the students and give them an opportunity to exercise their creative talents in real-world scenarios.” 

Many educators stress the need to build programs around practical skills that can translate to future employability. “Course requirements that are written to satisfy minimum federal funding guidelines often produce dull courses that students are not interested in completing,” says Glenn Laird, graphic arts instructor at Eagle Rock High School in Los Angeles, noting that his school uses the SkillsUSA model that stresses personal development and strong technical skills. “You can have an inexpensive course with no investment besides computers and software, but to keep students interested, you have to be very creative to maintain enrollment.” Eagle Rock students gain hands-on experience with multicolor screen printing, DTG and heat transfer printing, rotary engraving, dye sublimation, computer-cut vinyl, lamination, and wide-format printing on eco-solvent and latex machines. They are charged with choosing the most appropriate technology for the job and taking projects from design through finishing.


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