Mon, Jan

Stand and deliver

Will you be an ambassador for print? Will you help educate the next generation about the opportunities a career in this industry affords them? Debbie McKeegan of TexIntel and Fespa Textile Ambassador makes a rallying call.

The print industry is a vibrant hub of innovation, excellence and disruptive technology. Well, that’s my perspective, and I believe it’s accurate…and it’s been my world for the last 25 years. I’m sure that many colleagues in the industry would agree. However, it’s also true to say that the industry is struggling to convince - and recruit - the next generation. So how do we engage with the - potential - bright young stars of or future? 

The summer months are filled with thousands of talented students graduating in all aspects of design and other areas pertinent to print, many of whom will never find employment within their chosen vocation. Why? Because the academic sector and the print industry on the whole, do not have a deep connection, and that’s critical to the future of both. It’s not good enough that people from the print industry visits final year shows or whatever, looking to recruit. For sure, he sector offers awards and internships for the few, but in reality the connections that will deliver change need to be nurtured much earlier in the education cycle. 

In a bright new world of opportunities the print industry must reach out to students, to inspire and educate them as to the variety of employment opportunities and rewards it offers the gifted. 

The university system is flawed - with no consistency in curriculum it has become a lottery for many individuals who, dependent on where they study, will receive a varied, insufficient education, and one that does not fulfill either their own expectations or those of he workplace. Many courses are not delivering the curriculum the print industry needs, and this has generated a sub-culture of internships, many unpaid, whereby the student must complete at least a year of mentored employment to reach an acceptable level of accomplishment to gain full-time employment.

As the Fespa Textile Ambassador, I was recently asked to speak at the School and College Fashion Week - a new event that engages youth across the UK by delivering career information. The vision is to inspire the next generation (for many of whom university isn’t the right option) by connecting with industry and utilising storytelling to showcase the diversity and incredible opportunities the print sector has to offer. As digital nomads, the innovation this industry practices should be an attractive proposition to our youth - if only they knew about it. 

It was alarming that as I chatted to many young people and their tutors, their understanding of how our industry functions was on many occasions limited to an old fashioned vision of pigment and steam, and mass production. That’s not the industry I know! The print industry clearly needs to be redefined to attract the next generation.

The academic sector is desperate for help, but resources are scarce to say the least, with fewer staff, remote learning and with high numbers of students to staff ratios. Time is limited for all, and we must make a serious effort to alleviate the current situation. It’s my belief that this is why the negative space exists - tutors simply don’t have the time to reach out to build strong connections with industry, and ironically invest critical time to deliver the learning and external networking platform that will provide jobs for their students and an appropriate curriculum. As a print community we must do more to make a positive impact.  

Perhaps one of the issues we overlook is the speed of change that as print practitioners we have all embraced in our daily lives - how can we expect the academic sector to keep up with the industry’s eco-system and technology if we don’t share our knowledge?

It’s a tough industry, and in the years post-recession many businesses simply strive to get to Friday making a profit, whilst working flatout - at the same time adopting essential new technologies to meet customer demands and stay in business. We are just not looking at the wider picture and taking the time to engage with the future generation. 

Time is precious, but as professional practitioners we must make the time needed to educate and encourage our youth given they are the future of the print industry.

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