All industries need to maintain a steady flow of new entrants, progressing through training to more skilled positions. But it can be hard to ensure, and particularly so when the ability to attract top-quality trainees is stymied by an unfair negative portrayal of said industry.
And while we know print is still a very healthy business it is undoubtedly greying, so how are companies and bodies standing up to the challenges posed by the requirement for good training?
PrintWeek reported at the beginning of this year on wide-format body Fespa’s training survey, looking to plug perceived training and skills gaps in the wide-format sector.
“You have to differentiate between training and qualifications and people often confuse the two,” says the survey’s author and Fespa UK associate director Peter Kiddell.
“Training is very definitely operations-focused. There are certain elements included in the qualifications that are extremely good, such as communication issues and health and safety, but when it comes to specific training for particular aspects of the industry that is where we are struggling.”
For Kiddell, wide-format is lacking a framework to help companies put the hours in, and the bodies are not dedicating enough time to the training cause.
On the commercial print side, BPIF programme director Ursula Daly is more positive about the Fed’s rolling programme that has around 500 trainees at any given time.
Daly says: “The print industry has always been good around training and apprenticeships. If you go around the industry people will talk about apprenticeships they did when they first came in. You have a lot of serious people who actually started out as apprentices.”
The BPIF sets high training standards for the industry. It offers a whole range of apprenticeships, across disciplines including pre-press, print, digital and finishing, along with a number of business training programmes, some of which go all the way up to NVQ Level 5 (which pre-qualifies candidates for a masters).
Apprenticeships tend to contain two elements, a vocational VRQ and a theoretical NVQ, and Daly explains that while historically the BPIF was fully focused on trade apprenticeships, the changing nature of the industry means management skills are increasingly being taught.
Paper merchant Antalis offers up a similar training service focused entirely on digital and with a heavy emphasis on developing technologies; more than 50% of its workshop topics are in colour management and RIP software.
Antalis digital support manager Giles Bristow joined the company in 2010 and helped set up the Antalis Digital Academy after he began training his colleagues in digital printing developments. Now, more than 350 trainees are attending 70 Digital Academy workshops a year.
“There are multiple training providers, but many are limited to providing training on the specific brands they supply. At Antalis, we don’t have these restrictions,” says Bristow.
On the surface it appears that Fespa UK could take a leaf out of the BPIF and Antalis’ book, in recruiting and retaining trainees, but the job is admittedly a difficult one when budgets are slim.
Fespa UK is, however, making positive changes, organising site visits for trainees and spreading the word of wide-format, a growing sector that requires training provision to keep up with growth.
“We’ve got to talk together, that’s how we are doing it at Fespa UK, we have people who are hard-nosed competitors willing to work together on creating the resources and making resources available to train people,” adds Kiddell.
The European Flexographic Industry Association (EFIA) has long been held in high esteem for the training it provides in this particular niche of the industry.
EFIA consultant director Debbie Waldron-Hoines upgraded and revamped its training modules at the back end of last year to form an EFIA academy, providing what she believes to be the only formal flexo training in the UK.
14 online modules, ranging from ink to management to sales, can be completed in the trainees’ spare time – and to date 200 individuals have completed modules. Waldron-Hoines is working with certain EFIA partners to provide hands-on training to complement the online modules.
“Companies don’t have the time or resources to spend on people in training,” she says.
“There is an appetite out there to train but companies do not have the staff to replace trainees while they go away so this online training is good in the way people can work. We’re fairly advanced in doing that.”
But there is a further dark cloud on the horizon. The Apprenticeship Levy, the subject of so much chatter of late, is soon to come into force. The Levy is part of a government drive to establish three million more apprenticeships by 2020, by taking 0.5% of the wage bill from firms that pay out more than £3m and redistributing this money to all companies in the form of a £15,000 Levy allowance.
The issue, according to Levy experts like Daly, is that the red tape that accompanies the Levy will lead to companies large and small shying away from accepting trainees in the first place.
“My diary is filling up with people wanting me to come and see them and tell them about the Levy,” says Daly.
“From the point of view of SMEs there is a general concern that the people who have traditionally been very supportive of apprenticeships will think this is all too much like hard work while the bigger companies will likely cut their training budgets.”
So while quality training structures in certain sectors remain in place, an industry that is teetering on the knife edge of good training provision could do without any unnecessary distractions.