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Tue, Mar

IR talks to… Peter Kiddell, director of Fespa UK Association and past-chairman of the GPMA

Heard of degree apprenticeships? Perhaps not, because ‘Print’ is not on the list of industry sectors offering courses. Should it be? And what can we do as an industry sector to ensure there is higher level training to meet our needs in 2017 and beyond?

I asked Peter Kiddell - director of Fespa UK Association and past-chairman of the Graphics, Print and Media Alliance - about how we move forward.

As someone who wears both Fespa UK and GPMA hats, do you think digital PSPs would benefit from more/better higher level industry specific education/training programs like degree apprenticeships?

Degree apprenticeships are currently available in 13 key areas, though the government hopes to extend availability to other industries if the initiative is successful. Quite simply, print is not ‘sexy’ - the impression given to government is that the industry has no future. The reality is that print is changing rapidly, and of course PSPs would benefit from degree level apprenticeships.

A basic issue is that potential graduates do not recognise the opportunities open to them in companies where print is a core process. They don’t know because we don’t tell them. Consider what we can offer a young person - management, digital technologies, design, innovative thinking, process engineering, sales, marketing, planning, finance, HR, environmental-management, logistics, IT, communications to name a few. Young people see us as just printers, a dying breed, a craft that is past its sell-by date. Take them into a wide-format production facility and they would recognise its true potential. A question to ask yourself is: ‘When was the last time I spoke to my local college/university/sixth-form college about arranging a site visit?’ If we as practitioners don’t communicate with educators, how are the young people going to learn about the opportunities we can offer them?

The reality is that there is confusion in the whole apprenticeship system. Government states it wishes training and apprenticeships to be industry-led. As it stands there are no degree apprenticeships specifically for the printing industry but that doesn’t stop us from encouraging people with degrees in numerous disciplines from joining our sector. Being process specific is detrimental to us employing bright, intelligent and practical young people.

Having spoken with UCAS, it’s apparent that the degree apprenticeship schemes are put together via industry talking to universities about their specific requirements. I know some PSPs work closely with local universities – but I’m guessing a bigger industry body could do more to flag up requirements and help formulate appropriate development schemes?

The printing industry has set up a group representing unions and employers to fulfill the request of government to create new standards. This is called ‘Trailblazers’. Unfortunately, the initiative has come to a halt. The group presented a proposal to BIS, which was rejected and will be re-presented to DfE. Note the change in departmental initials. Yes, a different government department. A civil servant was quoted as saying that the matter was in ‘fluid policy development’. An obscure statement that means they don’t know what they want. This doesn’t bode well for an early conclusion.

Until Trailblazer is sorted the printing industry has to continue with existing frameworks. These do not include degree qualifications.

At a meeting of the GPMA (a group of associations representing the printing industry) we were informed of the current status of Trailblazer, which ran aground on the fact that industry representatives wanted a framework similar to the current framework where there are three qualifications – pre-press, printing, and finishing. The committee, which had never visited a print shop, wanted a single standard covering all three disciplines.

It will be very difficult for industry representatives to change that decision, even though one member of the committee has now been to a printing company and understands the wishes of the industry representatives. It is likely that there will be a compromise where there will be a single framework with a bias in the areas in which an apprentice will specialise.

It makes sense that an apprentice has a good understanding of the various aspects of print. Any good employer would familiarise an apprentice with the other disciplines. However, we know that the skills needed for design and manipulation of graphics packages are different to those required on the production floor. As the use of digital print technologies increase the job roles continue to merge. The hope is that there will be agreement by spring 2017 and the industry will have a new standard for apprentices.

With the workload of the civil service, the frustration of industry representatives, and the ‘B’ word swamping everything I have all my limbs and digits crossed that this timing will be achieved. Up until the ratification of the new standard the existing framework will apply to all apprentice starts. Don’t ask about those partway through if training providers are delivering the new syllabus!

Industry representatives have spent a great deal of time and energy in reviewing the frameworks to provide a new standard. I feel their pain. Moving responsibility for apprenticeships from BIS to DfE does not help communications between the industry and government.

You are right it is a mess - there is uncertainty as to what, when and who. What exacerbates the situation is that decisions are driven by politics.

To what extent is money the issue?

The Levy 0.5% of wages and salaries for companies with a bill of more than £3m starts in April/May 2017. Those paying the levy will be able to claim back what they use to fund training delivered for apprenticeships. They will get a 10% contribution from government on top of the money they spend. They will have to use training providers from a list of registered providers. If the money is not spent in any one year then it stays with the exchequer. This applies in England. Scotland, Northern Ireland and probably Wales will have different regulations, where it appears that companies may be able to spend the money on training for any employee not just apprentices. Restricting spending to apprentice training may alter in England but there is no definite information on this. The good news is that apprentices are not age restricted to 16 - 19 but can be at any age

The printing industry, along with other sectors, still suffers from the corrosive mantra of past years that ‘free training’ was available for NVQ’s and apprenticeships. In business if something is free it is not valued. This is certainly the case with training. Training is an investment for a business.

A cartoon once asked: ‘What if we train them and they leave?’ - the answer being, ‘What if we don’t … and they stay!’ The mindset has to be that training and education is not a cost but an investment.

As a PSP investing £100,000 or more in a piece of equipment is quite normal. If 5% of this figure was used to give staff a greater understanding of the impact of the equipment and how best to utilize its capacity, then the benefits of the investment would multiply greatly.

Because of the reluctance of the industry to invest resources in training and education, colleges and industry trainers have slowly melted away. We are left with a handful of providers, some of whom only have a real understanding of qualification structures and little or no expertise in current industrial processes and techniques. Those with up-to-date process knowledge are often just specialist trainers, OEM’s, and substrate suppliers. These people hardly ever venture into government funded training and qualifications as they run into Ofsted monitoring and regulation, and a mountain of paperwork. There is still a huge gulf between industry needs and government’s regulatory expectations.

I will whisper this - my personal opinion is that government should remove direct financial support for industrial training and replace it with tax incentives. By all means fund education but leave industrial training to industrialists. The training levy goes some way towards this but it is seen as punishing large companies. Additional tax relief is a positive incentive.

There is no better measure of quality than a managing director signing a cheque to pay for training provision at the end of each month. Keeping the focus on the benefits of training throughout the company.

Sadly, government uses potential apprenticeships statistics as an indication that it is promoting skills development. It promised to deliver three million apprenticeships. So far the total is 2,200,000. Once the 3,000,000 is reached it may become more flexible. It wants to show it is investing in industry rather than understanding the actual quality or relevance of delivery.

How do you think this sector’s higher-level training requirements are likely to be met in the near term?

Quite honestly I don’t know. A small number of PSP’s are working with their local universities, offering work placements, sometimes interns. Others are recruiting graduates with particular skills. I don’t think the ‘Degree Apprenticeship in Print’ idea will fly, but we must develop further links with education.

And in the longer term?

Training that is fully relevant to the wide-format sector will have to be created from within by process specialists, in co-operation with a learning institution, and national accreditation. Fespa UK Association is currently surveying the industry to establish the topic areas that PSP’s consider important. From this survey it is likely that a structure will emerge that may be the basis of a virtual academy linked with training visits to and co-operation between PSP’s and their supply chains. Costs will be covered by fees, and sponsorship from suppliers and the like. It may be a dream but there has to be a solution to the current nightmare.