LETTERS to the editorOctober 2008
Regarding the skilled labor controversy, here is another vantage point. First, Mr. Levenson is correct in saying that the industry does not need union offset pressmen. We do, however, need pressmen. What we have today are, for the most part, operators.
In this day of the "McDonald-ization" of many industries, including printing, automation and turnaround are paramount. If you asked an operator about print length, wire vs. felt, what densitometers do, spectrophotometry, ink tacks, feeding wavy paper, screen angles, emulsification, dot patterns, etc., all you would get is a blank stare.
Just last week, an operator was asked to reboot the press, and he didn't even know how to shut the power off. Even the equipment manufacturers only brag about productivity gains. When was the last time a press manufacturer announced quality enhancement tools as standard equipment?
Next, to say that we should forget "craft" is wrong. That is exactly why we can't get skilled labor. Who wants to make a career in production at McDonalds? Craft is needed, even in this day of automation, because "individualized and personal skills" will achieve a common goal (standards) faster than non-craftsmen would. Leave alone all of the potential problems in the printing process that a craftsman would easily resolve and an operator would not know where to begin.
Next, standards and systems are only as good as the individual utilizing and setting them. And who is monitoring this? How many jobs are run without QA approval? Therefore, it is not just "who is doing the task" that makes productivity and quality consistent. It is also the managers who set the standards.
In the interest of fast turnaround, aka higher profits, I have found the common response from management and sales to be: "It has to deliver." By the way, as a QA person in the printing industry for nearly 36 years, I can tell you that productivity has gone up and quality is going down, more internally than externally. I'm fortunate to work for a company that has a QA department. There are many that don't or have eliminated them.
It is sad to see the deterioration of quality and craftsmanship, which go hand in hand in the printing industry. There is no longer "Pride in Print."
If the printing industry wants to regain its past luster, we need to stop producing (and accepting) "average," stop blaming others (vocational and community colleges), and start emphasizing creativity, quality, reputation, innovation and what a craftsman can do to a blank sheet of paper. Then advertise it.