17 May 2008

Students and silos: Thoughts on graphic-arts education

Over on the Print CEO Blog last week, Brian Regan and I traded comments on Adam Dewitz's post about educating the next generation of printing industry leaders. The elephant in the (virtual) room was the fear that there won't be any printing industry for the next generation to lead.
As President of the Society of Printers from 1995-1997 and of Bookbuilders of Boston from 2004-2007, I was an ex-officio member of the Printing and Publishing Council of New England. The PPCNE was once an influential group, promoting the interests of a dozen graphic-arts organizations in the Boston area. Mergers and acquisitions, overseas competition, and the growth of other media have diminished the printing and publishing industries, so now PPCNE's primary role is the stewardship of a substantial scholarship endowment (in the low seven figures). The Council, as its members call it, administers its own scholarship program: They review students' applications and decide which ones will receive scholarships.
When I attended Council meetings, the constant refrain was the shrinking pool of qualified applicants. "Qualified" in this case means students from New England enrolled in degree-granting programs leading to careers in printing or publishing (not just graphic design, and certainly not web design).
This line of conversation drove me nuts. What college kid would get on a vocational track dedicated to an industry where each year, a thousand US companies either are swallowed up by bigger companies or simply sell their presses for scrap and close down?
No amount of scholarship money will motivate kids to learn skills that fewer and fewer employers need. Yes, we still need printers, and we always will, but it's no longer useful to think of putting ink on paper as an isolated activity. 21st Century printing is one part of an industrial matrix that includes all the ways we distribute and display words, sounds, and images. This matrix includes book and magazine publishing, music, television, movies, games, telecom, Internet, direct mail marketing, packaging, and signage.
Industry and colleges must embrace this change together. Both must break down the silos that impede the formation of this media matrix. Industry must create career paths that cross obsolete boundaries, and colleges must create curricula to prepare graduates to thrive in a world where ideas matter more than the channels they flow through.
And organizations like the Print and Graphics Scholarship Foundation and the Printing and Publishing Council of New England must use their scholarship money to enable this evolution, not to resist it.

1 comment:

Brian Regan said...

I think walled gardens will crumble and industries will be forced to share data. Things like linkedIN will reshape professional networks and even topple Job boards.

The key like in any business is to remain flexible and adaptable. Older thought processes will not hold up and slower bogged down management styles will falter.