Attracting the Best and the Brightest

The graphic communications industry is in a constant state of flux, presenting both challenges and opportunities for those looking to enter the field. Facing those challenges are those involved in graphic communications education.

“The future of the industry depends on attracting the best and brightest young people, providing an education for them and then moving them ahead in a career path,” reports Ted C. Ringman, VP of Development, Print and Graphics Scholarship Foundation.

“Our industry has never been as challenged as we are now to attract talented people,” says Ringman. “As the printing industry evolves and changes, there will continue to be significant and exciting career opportunities. Printing Industries of America predicts that by 2020, up to an average of 50,000 new employees will be hired annually. There are currently 4,000 students studying graphic communications or printing in approximately 200 colleges and universities.The graduating class in 2012 will number slightly over 1,000. Granted, not all those entering our industry require a printing education. However, the industry faces a potential shortfall of trained people.”

One group not taking the challenge lying down is the Printing & Graphics Association MidAtlantic (PGAMA), which participates in a slate of programs designed to “turn students into employers.” Recent efforts included a three-day professional development conference for PrintED instructors; the training and support of a local student participating in the national SkillsUSA Graphic Communications competition; and the award of partial college scholarships by PGAMA’s Education Fund.

Outdated job descriptions used by the Bureau of Labor Statistics to describe the industry are another big concern—affecting state funding of graphic communication programs in schools and students’ interest in those programs.

“Having current and accurate printing industry job descriptions listed on O*Net is a critical issue,” reports Ringman. “Students looking for a solid career need data that is up to date and presents a fair picture of the industry. High schools, technical schools, and colleges rely on job descriptions that show a positive image for a highly technical industry to help secure funding in a challenging educational budget environment.”


Defining graphic arts

In fact, one of the biggest challenges for educators is defining “What is graphic arts?” says Dr. Jerry Waite, Coordinator of the University of Houston’s Digital Media program, where the graphic arts curriculum has evolved into much more than print production. “Print alone doesn’t suffice. We have added digital photography, Web design, e-publishing, packaging, and videograpy to our curriculum,” says Dr. Waite. “The students who finish the program skim the surface of the graphic arts. There is no time to delve deeply into any particular area, so we’re creating generalists that the employer will have to finish training.”

At Cal Poly the challenge lies in educating students in such a way that they think beyond simply “getting a job” but more to building a career, explains Dr. Harvey Levenson, Department Head, Graphic Communication, Interim Chair, Journalism, Cal Poly State University. “We want our students to anticipate market shifts that will define industry needs in the future. We want them to build their education in such a way that they join companies after having developed a vision of where the company may be headed in the future. This provides the critical thinking and undergirding allowing them to contribute meaningfully from day one to discussions about their company’s direction and strategic planning. At Cal Poly our students’ understanding of technology, applications, and management principles are pretty well established. It is instilling a sense of vision that challenges the students and their professors in achieving and delivering a meaningful and viable education.”


Expanding education

To find qualified well prepared employees, Dr. Ervin A. Dennis, Managing Director of the Accrediting Council for Collegiate Graphic Communications, Inc, (ACCGC), asserts, “It is imperative that graphic communications related programs be continued and expanded, especially at the associate and baccalaureate degree levels.”

ACCGC is encouraging company executives to hire employees from accredited academic graphic communications programs. There are two graphic communications accrediting bodies—PrintED for high school and associate/diploma programs and ACCGC for associate, baccalaureate, and graduate programs.

“If graphic communications related academic programs—high school through university—continue declining in number across the USA, the supply of quality employees will simply not be there,” says Dr. Dennis. “Funding for education has decreased and cuts have been made. In fact, I’m aware of two major baccalaureate degree graphic communications programs with ACCGC accreditation that have had to either close or greatly reduce their curricular offerings this year because of budget reductions and fewer students entering these programs.”

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Reaching out to students

Another challenge facing the industry is attracting young talent. Cal Poly’s outreach programs are designed to attract new students to its graphic arts program.

Three primary approaches are used:

1) Streaming Videos—“We have found that short streaming videos are the best way of attracting the attention and interest of young people,” says Dr. Levenson. “The university has an annually renewed database of tens of thousands of high school juniors and seniors seeking college and university opportunities. Links go directly to the students’ personal email addresses and are also posted on social media sites. The videos feature faculty, alumni and/or present students talking about our Graphic Communication program in a program setting such as a laboratory.”

Year after year, this is a proven success, reports Dr. Levenson. “In Graphic Communication at Cal Poly we receive many more applications from qualified students than we can accommodate. Hence, we have the opportunity of selecting the best and brightest. Using this recruiting approach, Cal Poly has become one of the most selective universities in the nation, accepting about one out of every 10 applications,” says Dr. Levenson.

2) Interactive Web Conferences— Cal Poly holds interactive webinars where prospective students can get online and ask questions to a panel of faculty members. “We schedule two-hour evening sessions for this,” explains Dr. Levenson. “The streaming videos and interactive webinars have become very effective considering that Cal Poly now recruits nationally and internationally as opposed to just in California. We have enhanced the diversity of our student body via admitting students from other states and nations.”

3) Open House—Cal Poly holds an annual Open House for prospective students and their families. This includes presentations by faculty and students, and laboratory tours. This is a great chance for prospective students to hear from present students, and for parents to get a firsthand look at the environment in which their daughter or son will be living and learning.