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A decade of change: Print 21 magazine article

Friday, 26 June 2009
By Print 21 Online Article

After ten years at the helm of PrintNZ, Joan Grace can look back on a decade during which the printing industry has been transformed by technology, environmental demands and the shifting market for printed products. One constant, however, is the ever-present need for skilled individuals.

Change is something I have seen plenty of over the past 10 years as Chief Executive of PrintNZ Training. I spoke at our recent Apprentice Awards function and reflected on the changes in technology, government policy for training and our industry training over the past decade.

To illustrate the technology changes, I had with me a photo book with photos of our grandsons and family enjoying their summer holiday. The book was ordered online, with template options allowing the buyer to add their creative touch. It was then digitally printed, packed and distributed to a home address. Who would have thought this was possible 10 years ago, when digital colour printing was first making an entrance into the industry and web-based ordering was still in its infancy? The photo book is a quality product and a fine example of one of the many print options that are available now for consumers.

Changing technology helps ensure that the print industry remains a relevant communication tool. Digital is a growing part of the market but the latest offset presses are also offering change with more speed, greater efficiencies, more automation and reduced environmental impact. While some talk about electronic displacement of print by the web, with publications being available online these days, many print ‘items’ cannot be displaced to the web – eg packaging, billboards, point-of-sale, electronic keypads and many other items produced in our industry.

Looking at our members, we see companies diversifying and ‘removing the silos’ by offering a broader range of print-related services. These days, we see copy shops competing with commercial printers. These are often located in main streets with the ability to form relationships with local businesses by providing small runs quickly. Commercial printers are creating packaging and sign makers are providing digital services and thus competing with wide format businesses. New Zealand has also seen the consolidation of businesses that has been seen worldwide and with it the emergence of corporate group structures such as BSPG and Geon.

Fundamentals still apply

Moving on to government policy, surprisingly (some might say) industry training policy has been stable since the early 1990s when the core fundamentals were set in place. In New Zealand, Industry Training Organisations (ITOs) are seen as leadership bodies with a role to ensure that training standards and arrangements work for the industry. A big part of this is getting continuous feedback from the industry to ensure the training available is what the industry wants. The formal structure of industry training in NZ is something not seen in Australia and the UK in particular.

NZ has recently voted in a National Government which promises to support “the huge contribution that quality apprenticeships make to the NZ economy”. While the support is there, the Government also wants results (completions) – what they see as value for their spend. There is also a strong Government focus on literacy skills and productivity in the workplace, something we are already working towards.

So what has changed in print industry training over the past 10 years? Certainly the numbers involved – 380 people at the end of 1999 compared with over 600 today. We are one of the smallest ITOs in NZ, compared to those with thousands of apprentices and trainees, but we are also one of the best with training completions in the print industry being very high in comparison to other industries.

There has also been a significant shift in people training in the traditional areas of sheetfed and reelfed printing to more training in digital areas and fibreboard packaging.

One thing that has stayed the same is the commitment from employers in our industry to take part in industry training and give their employees the skills and knowledge essential to doing their jobs well. This is something we should be very proud of, as it has benefits for all involved.

The future of print
Looking to the future, it is people who will make the difference: the right people with the right skills, attitude and initiative to help steer businesses into the future.

Environmental impact is another area of high significance to the future of print. While we are making progress in efforts to improve the image of print, it is still sometimes seen as a ‘waste of trees’. We all need to be positive about print, promote the environmental credentials of paper and be prepared to stand up for our industry.

Many print sectors will continue to be challenged by other technologies and the likes of web-based media. Our focus has to be on what we can provide with print and also how print can work with the competition.

I am proud to be part of our vibrant industry. I may not be a printer but after 10 years in the industry the ink is definitely flowing through my veins.

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