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Career development

Harry Mottram listens to key figures in the industry who seek to answer some of the challenges facing sign-making in a changing world

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Why are the younger generation not encouraged to join the sign industry?

The sign industry needs more training and a focus on career development

Why no careers advice in schools?

David Catanach
, director of the British Sign & Graphics Association (BSGA)

The working environment in the sign industry is rapidly changing comparing it to the last few years or so, but that doesn't mean you can't act to attract the right talent. It should be, to me, an industry that receives a much greater recognition and respect not just from customers but also from those starting out on their own career or looking for a dynamic industry to work in.

I’ve often said that most of the people working in the sign industry simply fell into it by chance rather than design. Unless your parents or relatives owned a sign company, the chance of you sticking your hand up in the air to tell the Careers Advice teacher at school that it is the sign industry for you and nothing else, is remote if not a farfetched fantasy. Why is it like this?

Is it because even the customer doesn’t consider the art of sign-making a skill? Or do they think it is more like a commodity service that has the exact design and materials just sitting on the shelf and ready waiting for an ‘Amazon Prime’ delivery service? Possibly the latter but the more sophisticated customer does seem to understand that if they want something that will do the job properly, it will take time to produce but, they still want it as cheap as possible and seem to be not prepared to pay a fair price. And guess what?

To win the business, price becomes the most important and something must fall by the wayside dooming the industry into the cheap-as-chips perception.

Fortunately, the reports back to the BSGA are showing an increase in the professionalism of sign companies along with their profitability but it is a continuous hard slog

Those sign companies who maintain and supply the higher end of the market are not completely immune to this aspect, but they manage it a lot more professionally and profitably. Fortunately, the reports back to the BSGA are showing an increase in the professionalism of sign companies along with their profitability but it is a continuous hard slog. But back to the point in question, you wonder why it is seemingly hard to recruit. I suggest that this is an industry that never seems to give itself a slap on the back and make itself look attractive.

The product we push out the factory gate is designed to entice people to take notice and engage. But just trawl through the online recruitment ads for example. Your responsibilities will be ‘x’ and we require from you ‘y’. Nothing at all about how fast, dynamic, modern, no-two-days-the-same, an industry ideal for those with a flair for design, initiative or IT or ‘hands on’ environments.  Where’s the enticement? Where is the fizz?

The industry seems to fall into the trap of not promoting itself to what is, to all intents and purposes, the future of our industry. I asked around what could be done at a very simple level and got some interesting responses and suggestions. 

1. Actively dispel the myths of a career in sign-making

Be proactive in highlighting the benefits of careers in the industry. Go back over the last six months and look at the products your business has produced and consider the variety. Then consider what had to happen to make these products. Highlighting the diversity of the day-to-day life of a business in the sign indus-try provides opportunities to alter the public perception of industry careers.

2. Highlight the advanced technologies that drive modern sign making

It’s no secret that millennials are a tech-savvy generation, having grown up as ‘digital natives.’ Generating awareness around the state-of-the-art technologies and innovation that the sign industry relies on, provides companies an opportunity to compete with the appeal of other jobs. By bringing the use of tech to the fore-front, businesses in the sign industry can actively change the inaccurate picture of an outdated and dirty workplace.

3. Re-evaluate recruiting strategies

Take a close look at job descriptions and postings. Be vocal about debunking myths of the conditions of sign making as these perceptions are harmful to the industry and are preventing qualified people from applying. Highlight an evolving career with plenty of room for growth. A focus on work-life balance can set job listings apart.

4. Focus on career development

Be sure recruitment doesn’t imply a static position with little room for growth. Millennials are in the pro-cess of beginning their careers and are not interested in dead-end job. In general, they are ambitious in their desire for growth. Consider calling out potential advancement opportunities or create a career roadmap—the more opportunities for growth you can share, the easier it becomes to recruit.

5. Consider a co-mentoring program

Have an employee from an older generation help a younger team member understand work culture and processes, while the younger employee helps their partner manage technology and new tools at work. This simple step can be a great advantage and help improve communication and training throughout the work-force.

6. Provide opportunities for learning

Younger generations are interested in developing skills in their jobs. By investing in programs like appren-ticeships and certification programs, companies can begin to recruit and develop employees early in their career.

7. Focus on capturing ‘tribal knowledge’

Consider implementing standard work instruction software to create training materials quickly, capture the knowledge of your workforce and distribute revisions without delay. A major advantage to systems like this is also their inclusion of photos and videos into instructions, allowing for easy communication of com-plex procedures.

8. Implement feedback loops to foster creative thinking

This gives younger employees opportunities to provide innovative solutions to business problems and feel invested in the company’s success. Providing areas to share feedback increases collaboration and keeps newer employees engaged.

I was surprised that those I spoke to had already considered this and I must admit, when I look back on the companies I asked, they were all of the forward thinking and successful kind. Perhaps subconsciously I asked those that were already a success exactly what they do to make it a success.

It was never going to be easy was it!

Training. An opportunity, or a waste of time?

Sam Armstrong, Make it Happen product sales director and technical committee member BSGA

Sam Armstrong of Make it Happen

Let’s start by looking at our industry. Signage is often the first touch point for the end customer; the look and feel of a sign can either encourage someone to want to learn more about the end product or turn them away. We have a wealth of raw materials and products at our disposal, which can deliver incredible visuals.

Lighting and technology play a big part in enhancing these materials to create an end product, which is not just a sign, it is a representation of the business or product it is promoting, one that the potential customer could identify with on sight.

These raw materials and production processes are constantly evolving; there is no limit

These raw materials and production processes are constantly evolving; there is no limit. As new materials are introduced, there will be new techniques that allow them to be used to maximum effect. The end product will be a worthy representation of the product or service it is promoting, and the client will be confident potential customers understand the value of the offering; this is the power of signage.

Historically, our industry has not relied on training to any great level; in fact, it is fair to say that the training available at every level, from apprentice upwards has been lacking.

The opportunities that training can offer are not limited to understanding materials and products, there is a benefit to sharing ideas in a group and talking through experiences and applications that can be helpful on a number of levels. Training can be a benefit in many ways, but in the signage industry, it is just not something we tend to do.

Is this because ‘we know what we know’ and it has worked perfectly fine so far; or are we missing out on the possibility to provide customers with a better service offering by taking the time to better understand materials, products and techniques as they become available?

Will it provide us with a more rounded approach and will experience and knowledge sharing improve our skill sets, or is it just a waste of time?

Let’s find out shall we!

Public Notice:

- Dispel myths about sign-making
- Focus on career development
- Training is vital
- Encourage young people into the industry

The British Sign & Graphics Association (BSGA) history dates back more than 70 years when a group of leading sign-makers formed the Master Sign Makers Association (MSMA) with the aim of promoting the sign industry and defending its interests.

For more information on the issues discussed in this article visit www.bsga.co.uk or Tel: 0845 338 3016 Make it Happen, Signage Consultancy www.makeih.co.uk


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