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With few qualifications available, and little information about a career in the industry Carys Evans asks if apprenticeships are the most effective way to attract new people to the industry

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According to the Apprenticeships Evaluation Survey 2017, 67% of employers said that employing apprentices improved their image in the sector

Pave the way for the future

In 2015, small- and medium-sized companies in the print and sign industry were urged to consider apprenticeships after it was revealed that just 41% of companies offered such schemes. According to All About Careers, the advantages of apprenticeships include structured training programmes with the opportunity to work towards a qualification; the opportunity to gain skills and knowledge in a chosen industry; and the potential for fast career progression. For younger people, an apprenticeship provides an opportunity to earn while you learn. For employers, an advantage is that while you are expected to pay your apprentice’s wages, funding is available to cover many other training costs.

O Factoid: According to the Apprenticeship Evaluation Survey, 25% of consumers are willing to pay more for products from a business that employs apprentices.O

With the 2017 Apprenticeship Evaluation Survey finding that 98% of employers with apprenticeships have experienced at least one benefit, and 25% of consumers are willing to pay more for products from a business that employs apprentices, it seems there are benefits for all involved. With 67% of employers saying that taking on apprentices improved their image in the sector, and 86% of employers also commenting on how apprenticeships helped to develop relevant skills for the organisation, it is easy to see why an employer would choose to offer an apprenticeship programme.

Given the practical nature of sign-making, it can be advantageous to employ and train apprentices who are not already ‘stuck in their ways’

Apprenticeships are also a good way to fill the skills gap by employing younger staff who have fresh knowledge and skillsets. Given the practical nature of sign-making, it can be advantageous to employ and train apprentices who are not already ‘stuck in their ways’.

Sign-making apprentices can expect to learn a wide range of skills, and will work with a variety of materials

The sign-making process involves many diverse skills, from graphic design through to electrical engineering and involves work with materials such as perspex, vinyl, plastic, metal, and glass.

Due to the broad range of methods used in sign-making such as using computer-controlled routers for cutting out moulded glass fibre lettering; screen-printing to produce posters; and traditional signwriting involving designing by hand and painting with special brushes and enamel paint, there are lots of areas for an apprentice to train in.

Apprentices can expect to learn a range of skills including how to design signs; prepare different types of surfaces; cut out and build plastics into letters and logos; use digital technologies and install signs.

Regulated training

The Apprenticeship Guide highlights the need for recognised apprenticeship programmes rather than companies providing their own personal training. It says: “There will be an ongoing need to attract new employers to provide sign-making apprenticeships as at present some employers carry out their own non-regulated training.”

There will be an ongoing need to attract new employers to provide sign-making apprenticeships as at present some employers carry out their own non-regulated training

In line with this, The Apprenticeship Evaluation Survey found that in 2017, around three in ten employers were relatively new to apprenticeships, having offered them for three years or fewer, a 25% increase since 2015. It is this rise in the number of new employers and with it, non-regulated training that some fear is causing apprentices to miss out on the level of training they deserve. A recent parliamentary report highlights these concerns and calls for clearer oversight of apprenticeship training and assessment and a tougher approach to poor-quality training.

Amid a rise in the number of approved providers, the report recommends an expanded role for Ofsted inspections and a cap on the amount of training that new providers can offer until they have proved their provision is of sufficient quality.

With the Apprenticeship Evaluation Survey also revealing that the Health and Social Work sector remains by far the largest employer of apprentices, accounting for over one fifth (22%) of employers, and that the most common subject areas provided by employers sit at Business (31%), Health (22%), and Retail (22%), could it be that the sign industry is not utilising apprenticeships to improve and benefit business?

Most sign-making apprenticeships are completed in the workplace and are practical courses

As there are few qualifications available to sign-makers, the first option for young people and those new to the industry is to train through an apprenticeship. Perhaps more needs to be done to encourage sign-makers to offer apprenticeship programmes for industries where you can’t study and qualify at alternative places such as university and college.

With developments in technology, sign companies need to keep up with the times. Businesses could benefit from employing young employees who have a good general knowledge of technology. These young people have grown up using computers, portable devices, the internet, and social media. Often, they pick up and implement technology faster than some older, more experienced employees who may have been at the company before this technology was adopted. This is a benefit as both young and old employees can learn from each other.

The next generation

The great thing about millennials is that they offer a fresh perspective and new ideas. A new generation means a new way of thinking. Also, to customers their own age, younger employees bring familiarity and can help generate marketing strategies that appeal to their particular age group. Having younger employees could also encourage other young people to enter the industry, curating the next-generation of sign-makers.

Online human resources publication, HR Zone, reiterate this, saying: “Millennials (those born 1981-1995) and Generation Z (born 1996-2010) make up around a third of the working population and so recruiting and retaining the best young talent is crucial for the future of businesses today.”

Despite the many advantages and benefits of offering an apprenticeship programme for both employers and employees, there are also factors which could mean that people may look elsewhere for their career entry.

The Apprenticeship Guide lists some of the disadvantages of an apprenticeship. These include: a starting salary as low as £2.73 an hour; for certain jobs, particularly for careers such as medicine, having an undergraduate degree is an essential requirement; and the fact that it will take much longer to gain a higher education qualification through an apprenticeship compared to applying with A-Levels.

However, there is a constant demand for signs and with new stores and businesses opening all the time, and established businesses going through rebranding and offering special deals, there will always be a need for sign-makers.

David Catanach, director of ISA UK powered by BSGA

David Catanach, director of ISA UK powered by BSGA, an organisation dedicated to shaping and developing the sign, graphics and visual communications community worldwide, agrees with the importance of offering apprenticeships in the sign industry. “Apprenticeships are an excellent way of bringing in young talent to an ever-changing industry that requires many skillsets amongst all its employees,” he says.

Catanach explains that the industry currently has two forms of recognised training. The first is given by suppliers keen on making sure the use and application of their products is commensurate with the product performance. The second is the framework for a standard of training in the form of an NVQ or SVQ, with funding for these qualifications only available through the Apprentice Scheme.

“The Apprentice Framework is ideal for young people to learn the skills necessary to make a career in the sign industry with the training ending in a nationally recognised qualification,” he continues.

“The industry thrives on innovation and a ‘can do’ attitude. We are after all, in the visual communication industry where flair and origination are likely to win the day and that should be a big plus in attracting younger members of staff who may not appreciate how diverse working in the sign industry can be.”

Amid fears over poor-quality training within apprenticeship schemes, Catanach is confident this is unlikely to be the case in the sign industry. He says: “Sign companies can specialise and to do that they must have a certain amount of knowledge to remain specialist. It follows that if such a company takes on an apprentice, it is in their interest to ensure that the training given is of the highest quality they can provide in order to continue to be successful.”

Flying the flag for signs

In a bid to encourage young people to consider a career in the sign industry, ISA-UK is developing a programme called Sign Manufacturing Day where students can come and see sign companies in action. The intention is for sign, graphics and visual communications companies to demonstrate at their premises to students, the wide variety of work and opportunities that exist in the industry, forge stronger relationships with local schools and colleges when it comes to recruitment, and gain greater recognition that the sign industry exists and what it represents.

ISA UK powered by BSGA is working with local schools and colleges to encourage recruitment into the sign industry

“Unless your parents or a relative owned a sign shop, I would wager that none of us ever considered working in the sign industry when the careers teacher came around at the school, yet here we are. This industry is absolutely fantastic in its range of solutions to clients’ requirements so much so that no two days should ever be the same.

“There is plenty there to grab the imagination and interest of school leavers to want to work in this vibrant and continually developing industry. The Apprentice scheme is an excellent way for students to start their working career off with hands-on training and a qualification at the end of it. A true win-win situation for student and employer,” Catanach concludes.

Cornish sign manufacturer, Creative View, offers sign-making apprenticeships and has found this has added value to its business. Chris Watson, managing director of Creative View, concludes: “Over the past three years we have had two sign-making apprentices and are looking to recruit a third.

Creative View gives its apprentices experience in a variety of practical and computer-based roles such as graphic design

“We have found them to be a great asset to the business, bringing fresh ideas. The apprenticeship is 100% in the workplace and the modules cover such a huge range of skills that it is easy to tailor the apprenticeship to a more specific role such as graphic preparation and application or for a more computer-based role such as graphic design and printing.”

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