Universities, suppliers, and associations provide educational opportunities in an industry where what you need to know is constantly changing.
By Lou Dzierzak
The skills required to conceive, design, produce, and deliver an award-winning exhibit design, building wrap, or point-of-sale display come from long hours of studying processes and trial-and-error. With the industry’s fast-paced innovation in printers, inks, and substrates, education plays an important role in turning new technologies into profitable business.
Education can take many forms. Manufacturers such as Océ Graphic Display Systems, Agfa, VUTEk, Gandinnovations, and Roland DGA offer in-depth training programs for customers. Industry organizations like Specialty Graphic Imaging Association (SGIA), the International Sign Association (ISA) and Industrial Fabrics Association International (IFAI) present an array of classes, clinics, training seminars, and symposiums. And in the last few years, technical colleges have begun to create degree programs to produce graduates trained in digital printing, color management, and exhibit design.
Schools meet a growing need
Bemidji State University, Bemidji, Minn., launched its DesignTechnology program in 2003. The school’s Exhibit Design curriculum is one of the first of its kind. “We’re the only school that has a complete undergraduate package that trains people to go directly into theexhibit industry,” says Dr. Mark Schmit, associate professor of Technological Studies.
The three-year-old Digital Printing, Imaging, and Web Technology Concentration at the Eastern Illinois University (EIU) School of Technology in Charleston, Ill., includes coursework in workflow and file management. Professor Jean Dilworth says that support from more than 25 major industry partners, including Optima Graphics, Fabric Images, and Roland DGA has been critical to the development and evolution of the degree program.
While program enrollment and graduate rates at Bemidji are still small (16 students will graduate this year, and the program will be at capacity, graduating 25-30 students a year within a couple of years), Schmit knows the industry is ready with job offers.
“In the past a company would have to recruit young people from architectural or interior design, bring them into [the company], andyou had to spend a lot of time showing them what this industry is all about,” Schmit says. “Now you are getting a young person who knows what needs to be done and the learning curve is a lot shorter. If youwant … beginning sales associates to sell trade show exhibits, wouldn’t you rather hire someone who knows design and what the exhibit industry is all about? I can place every person I graduate into the exhibit industry.”
Dilworth says that companies have trouble hiring people from the production side who want to progress on to management of workflow and color management responsibilities.
“Our students see it as a career path, not just a job,” she says. “I get more calls to hire people than I can produce.”
Tony Schmitt, product development manager at Optima Graphics, Fenton, Mo., supports the technical schools’ teaching methods. “I think that hands-on experience is invaluable in this industry,” he says. “To teach it all by books is not sufficient. The [EIU] program works well because they create their own booths and exhibit at shows so they get the whole spectrum of the industry.”
Vendors help customers
Printing professionals with years of experience can take advantage of manufacturer and industry organization education programs to keep abreast of new technology and processes.
Roland DGA has been involved with education programs since 1996. “Training is one of the core principles of our company,” says Brian McCloud, director of marketing. “Every individual who touches the product at the dealership needs to be trained.”
Several years ago, Roland started offering basic and advanced end-user training at the company’s California location. In 2008, the company will offer more regionally based training programs. “Our core business is small- to medium-size sign shops,” McCloud says. “Traveling to California for the two- to three-day trainings can be difficult for people to attend. We’re going to try to offer five to six regional trainings around the country to let more people attend without significant cost or downtime for their business.”
Training from Océ Display Graphic Systems is offered in two segments. “The first is basic operator training,” Tom Giglio, national sales support manager, explains. “The second half is based on applications. That really is the magic word we use because everyone’s application is different. During the basic training module we spend 60-70 percent on applications rather than the machine’s operability.
Business consultants who have prior experience in the printing industry present Océ’s training materials. “The added value is the wealth of knowledge the trainers bring to ancillary issues like fabric choices,” Giglio says.
Agfa Graphics also presents a tiered approach to training, according to Kristof Dekeukelaere, director, Inkjet Services, North America, Agfa Graphics.
“During installation, weoffer at least two days of basic operator training,” Dekeukelaere says. “We work with the customer with real jobs. Together with the customer we create the first production on the machine. We take time to make sure they have enough experience that when we leave they can run independently.”
Agfa also offers advanced technical services. “It’s basically a consultancy to go into more depth,” Dekeukelaere explains. “We get a lot of questions about matching devices. How can I make sure the output of my screen press is the same as my UV printer? How do I fit this equipment best into my workflow? You work together with the customer and work out the best solution for them.”
While teaching equipment operating procedures and addressing various applications top the list of priorities, color management is another major topic of interest.
“The biggest mystery in digital printing is still color,” says McCloud. “The management of digital color is an art form. It’s taking input devices, output devices, and processing software and trying to make Coca-Cola red in the end. It’s really an art and that’s where we see the most need for training.”
How do we learn?
Schmitt of Optima Graphics would like to see even more training opportunities. “Some of the larger manufacturers provide training but not enough of them in my opinion,” he says. “It’s growing but at too slow a rate.”
Nora Norby of Banner Creations Inc. in Minneapolis, Minn., agrees.
“I don’t think there are enough [training opportunities] in terms of what my employees could benefit from,” she says. “Maybe we’re not working at it hard enough. It’s easy to not spend a lot of time looking for something. At other times you can’t send people because you’re too busy.”
While investing in employee education is important to many businesses, Schmitt points out a downside. “There can be so much turnover rate in the production department that to spend a lot of money training them initially isn’t necessarily good,” he says. “The person that is trained on that printer when it is installed and ready to go may not be the same person running it a year from now. Optima Graphics uses an internal training program and sends employees to training programs when appropriate.”
The need for education is clear and the manufacturers, technical colleges, and associations are answering the call. Norby poses the overarching question: “How do we learn to make the decision to choose something that will work for this application? I just see people clamoring for more information all the time.”