Job Training Program Looks Beyond Students’ Disabilities to Help Them Launch Careers in the Printing Industry
Finding and retaining skillful employees can be a challenge for print service providers (PSPs), but community programs dedicated to educating and preparing people for the workforce can make the task of seeking out candidates much simpler and more efficient. The Career Pathways Program at Hudson Community Enterprises (H.C.E), based in Jersey City, N.J., is one such program that is training a wide range of individuals for placement into the printing industry.
Created in conjunction with Xerox’s Digital Career Pathways program and certified by Printing Industries of America and the Graphic Arts Education and Research Foundation, H.C.E’s Digital Printing Career Pathways program specializes in training and educating people with disabilities for a career in the graphic arts industry. The 12-week program provides prospective employees with in-class education, one-on-one guidance, and hands-on internship experience.
“We have a $16 million budget and about 900 employees, of whom 75% have a significant disability,” Joe Brown, president of H.C.E., says. “We have a scanning business, a cleaning business, a shredding business, a document imaging business, and a packaging and fulfillment business.”
Emphasis on Hands-on, Shop Floor Training
The program begins with eight weeks of training with Brian Optiz, digital print and bindery trainer and print shop manager. Students are taught how to create and repair files, determine the best printing methods, operate digital printing presses, and develop finishing skills. Some of this happens in a traditional classroom setting, but a majority of their training takes place right on the print shop floor.
“We run as a commercial printer to bring in real jobs, customers, and deadlines, so students get a true experience, not in a make-believe sense,” he says. “But in a ‘this job is due at three this afternoon, and it has to be done right’ sense.”
Optiz has the students focus on live production work, control documents, and quality review procedures. The shop features an EFI Fiery Command Workstation; a Xerox Versant 80 color press; a Xerox D110 black-and-white printer; and equipment for various finishing processes, including cutting, creasing, scoring, binding, padding, and more.
The print shop has been fully operational for three years and, according to Optiz, putting students in a position to deal with customers face-to-face allows them to take conceptual information and put it into action.
After eight weeks in the program — and after successfully passing the SkillsUSA national competency exam — students are placed into various internships.
“We usually have a four-week internship [for students] that we actually pay for,” Monique Wactor, recruiter and job coach for H.C.E., says. “So, we’re giving the employer an incentive to have that person work there. And if it works out, that’s no cost to them.”
Assistance with Permanent Placements
After students complete the 12-week program and internship, Wactor assists them in securing permanent placement. She explains that one of the biggest challenges remains in finding students positions that can accommodate their needs.
One of the most challenging aspects of placement is the hours. “Sometimes, with the availability for openings, print shops want to hire only for their night shift. It takes a little bit of convincing for our candidates.”
According to Larry Durso, independent consultant at H.C.E, distance can be a hurdle for people with disabilities, as well. But the community center’s Jersey City location works in their favor.
“We have to look at the travel distance, and make sure it’s not an extraordinary amount of time,” Durso says. “But being so close to New York helps, and there are many printing companies in New Jersey where we can place [students].”
Beyond these logistic challenges, the biggest obstacle H.C.E’s program has had to face is overcoming misconceptions about people with disabilities. A common fallacy they encounter is the assumption that individuals with disabilities lack the mental capacity to work in a professional environment.
But, according to Brown, this is not the case. “There are a lot of people who have a disability that aren’t intellectually impaired,” he points out. “In fact, there are a lot of people who are absolutely brilliant, but who have other sorts of disabilities.”
Brown also believes that working in a print shop is well-suited for people with intellectual challenges. It provides an environment of consistency and stability that people with these challenges often thrive in.
“Working at a print shop is very concrete work, and it’s helpful for people who may have some kind of severe learning disability, or some kind of mental challenge, to be able to have this concrete work,” he explains.
For this reason, and many more, PSPs can benefit from partnering with programs such as H.C.E’s Digital Printing Career Pathways program. While PSPs continue to see industry employment decline, working with print-focused career programs might just be the lifeline the industry needs.
Durso didn’t understand the merit of the program from the PSP’s perspective until he started working at H.C.E.
“If I was in the operations role, I would be hesitant,” Durso admits. A PSP might not see the benefit of the program “until they actually work with the people and see what a good job they can do, and the quality of their work. It’s surprising, and really is an eye-opener.”
Placing workers with actionable skills, industry experience, and hands-on practice working in a print shop is exactly what potential employers need. “[PSPs] should work with us because they’ll get a certified digital press operator,” Optiz notes. “They’ll get a worker who has been indoctrinated, and who has been introduced not only to real work, but also concepts of work.”
H.C.E’s Digital Printing Career Pathways isn’t just good for printers. It also gives people with disabilities a chance to learn new skills and excel in an industry they may not have had access to previously.
“The proof is in the pudding,” according to Durso. “Especially if the worker can actually produce, be on time, be interactive, and be a team member. I think that’s really the key.
“PSPs also have to be open enough to understand that they’re benefiting [by participating in] this program,” he adds. “Because they really are.