School days

September 1, 2007

Johnson’s World by Steve Johnson

Kennedy-King College is a community college serving Chicago's South Side with a strong vocational program. Andrew Lanum, tech prep coordinator for visual media communications, long has been a part of its printing program. At a recent roundtable of graphic arts educators, Lanum turned to the attendant panel of printers and, like any good salesman, asked, “What do today's printing companies need most from colleges?”

It amazes me how similar the situations of the printshop and the educator are: skyrocketing equipment costs; competition from more glamorous media; and technology changing so quickly that we struggle to keep up ourselves, much less to teach others.

Here is what printing companies of the future (the ones that will be hiring your graduates) need from today's college programs.

Act like a college

The “trade school” model of education was designed a century ago to replace the guild system that originated in medieval Europe. Really. Trade school students were supposed to enter the workforce having learned much of what a journeyman print craftsman already knew.

Most of us are in agreement that printing is now more science than craft. Stop teaching students to turn ink keys. Give me students who know more than I do — students who understand ICC profiles, remote proofing, PDF/X, JDF and JPEG compression.

Give me a graduate who will ask my why I'm not using all of these tools to their fullest extent, and who will show my experienced craftspeople how to implement the latest and greatest smoothly.

A graduate who understands all of the above will land a job in an uptodate shop with an automated workflow, never to turn an ink key or gum a plate.

Teach color, not machinery

The investment required for a modern offset press is beyond the reach of most college graphic arts programs. Equipment donations from manufacturers help, but such donations generally go to the nationally known institutions, leaving out the smaller schools.

Commercial-grade digital presses also are very expensive. To make matters more complex, digital presses vary greatly in core technology, thus in operation.

Stop fighting the budget battles over new “iron.” Save the millions for the rest of your program. This is undoubtedly the most radical of my suggestions, so take a minute to digest the details.

In a state-of-the-art offset workflow, final print files are proofed on lightduty digital printers that are calibrated and profiled to accurately match the press that will be used for the production print run. With proper profiling, it is theoretically possible to run the job on any press in the world. This includes digital presses as well as offset.

I am a digital printer. I have no need to hire a press program graduate who has learned the tips and tricks unique to running an AB Dick or a Miehle Roland, and neither do today's tech-savvy offset printing companies.

Even if a college has a state-of-the-art press (digital or offset), the manufacturers are not resting on their laurels. By the time your incoming students graduate, I'll have installed all new jGens or kGens, and your student still will need to be brought up to speed.

If you have focused on preparation, proofing and profiling, your graduate will have a digital background from working with proofing devices and will be equipped to help me integrate my new bleeding-edge press into my current workflow.

Get with the program

Understand the business, yourself. Andrew Lanum asked printers what they wanted because he understands printers are his customers.

By contrast, a panelist from another community college (let's call him “Mr. Dinosaur”) flatly rejected my comments. “Any printing company would love to have our school's 12-year-old press,” Mr. Dinosaur boasted.

Not my printing company. We don't have any offset presses, and we don't have any printing equipment that is more than four years old.

I do know of many printing firms whose entire fleet of pressroom equipment is 12 years old, or even older. Funny thing, though — none of them are hiring.