Reflections on the Printing Industry Recruitment, Gender and Diversity Discussion
The commentary on the dilemma of attracting young people to the printing industry and in creating gender diversity is the start of a fine and important discussion that really asks the question: Will the printing industry exist in the future as a vibrant, growing and needed industry — and attract a diverse employee base of equal interest to men and women?
The controversial word in the question I’ve posed is, “printing.”
Suppose I remove the word “printing” and change the question to: Will our industry exist in the future as a vibrant, growing and needed industry — and attract a diverse employee base of equal interest to men and women?
By changing “printing” to “our,” we open up a series of questions and a dialogue on what is “our” industry? The way our industry (or any industry) is perceived impacts the extent to which people want to enter it as a career choice.
I speculate that if I surveyed the average “person on the street” on their understanding of the meaning of “printing” or “the printing industry,” and if I surveyed if these terms evoke positive or negative reactions, I hypothesize that the range of responses would mostly include perceptions of what the printing industry is not to those of us in the industry. I also speculate that perceptions of “printing” as an occupation choice for young people would elicit negative reactions. However, such a study would, in my opinion, result in a body of data to assist industry companies in strategic planning and in marketing approaches to attract employees. I propose that our industry’s media (the industry press) conduct such a study.
Hence, two operative questions emerge:
- What reasons are there that someone (a young person) considering a career path would select “printing” as a career?
- What components and developments of our industry are compelling in attracting young people to select our field as one of choice for a career path?
We can learn from recent technological innovations. For example, one of the most positive recent developments that has emitted a positive light on “printing” is the advent and publicity surrounding “3D printing,” because the technology can impact nearly every aspect of life in a practical way — medical, construction, aerospace, science and much more. What’s interesting, however, is that 3D printing has nothing to do with the traditional printing industry. Yet, the industry has claimed it as part of its own. It is an example of a practice in rhetoric — how words impact perception. It has had a favorable impact on the perception of “printing,” but it is one of merely a few developments that has. Another is inkjet printing, and a third is printed electronics.
Using the 3D printing example, if the inventors of 3D printing called it something else, such as 3D fabrication or 3D assembling or 3D construction, my impression is that it would have never been identified as being part of the “printing industry.” It could easily have been claimed by the fields of Industrial Technology or Industrial Engineering.
Now, if 3D printing elicits a favorable response, what is involved in 3D printing that would lead one to pursue a career in it? Well, it is STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics); disciplines that are being heavily promoted as career options for today and the future. Hence, a secondary, but important, question is: What other aspects printing, as we know them today, requires education in STEM? There are many related to hardware and software development, technology implementation, IT, technical services and so on.
To attract interest in our field, instead of calling it “printing,” let’s use the rhetoric of STEM.
So, what aspects of STEM are involved in printing? Some examples include:
And add to this:
I’ve advocated for years that all of us in graphic communication education and the industry at large stop using terms and references of the industry’s past. For example, stop using terms such as trade, craft, vocation, print shop and other terms identified with what the industry used to be, but is no longer. We are a profession, not a trade or vocation; we are a science, not a craft; our companies are businesses, not shops.
The time to change the rhetoric of our industry has come! It will take changing some old communication habits. However, in my opinion, it is the path to attracting new and diverse talent, and in developing new industry leadership.
Dr. Harvey R. Levenson is Professor Emeritus and former Department Head of Graphic Communication at Cal Poly State University in San Luis Obispo, Calif. His research and teaching specialties are communication, intellectual property, media, printing, and technology. He is often called upon as an Expert Witness in these areas. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org