Young people in wide-format: what are we doing about tomorrow?

What do you think?

By Sophie Matthews-Paul
11 November 2010

It's been argued that more seminars and training opportunities could encourage more young people into the industry

It's a worrying thought, and one dear to my heart as I reach for my pension. Where are tomorrow's wide-format print specialists coming from? Who is out there encouraging them, and why isn't this topic covered more specifically in career prospectuses and college courses?

Many of the display producers I visit are far from being in their dotage, yet there is a dearth of young people following in their footsteps. Look closely at the average age of visitors to exhibitions and other trade events, and the majority isn't represented by today’s youth.

Google the relevant words, including 'digital', 'education', and 'print' and see what happens. Yes, in the UK there are colleges and facilities offering training but they aren't particularly easy to track down and there isn't a wide choice of options.

If I were a young person wanting to make a career out of wide-format print, where would I start? Experience would tell me that, first, I'd have to decide if I want to concentrate on the creative side of the production process or whether my fascination lies more in the workings of the machines, the inks and the materials.

Anything to do with computerised technology is sure to appeal to a mass of today's youth whose experience in wielding a mouse and looking at a screen is likely to extend beyond giggling with friends on Facebook and Twitter. So why aren't these young enthusiasts looking at the bigger picture and deciding to make a career in wide-format digital print?

To an extent, today's technology has deskilled many of the processes involved in moving an image from a desktop creation to a finished print. There are so many routes into wide-format production that, perhaps, for interested students, it's impossible to know where to start. We need to open doors and make the opportunities more obvious.

In the old days, manual skills and creative brains were the keys to following a career in graphics, fine art and photography. Today these talents are diluted with the additional knowledge of how to optimise design programs to obtain a finished result. The artistic meets the technical, and the two can sit side by side to enable the production of a digitally created result.

Wide-format digital print isn't a black art. It’s simply the technique of taking an image and outputting it at a larger size. Since the digital age, photography has soared in popularity; ergo, young people today can become involved in the mechanics of working with images at a far lower investment point than, say, a decade ago.

The few colleges out there with digital printing courses are doing a good job. But we need to make the potential of careers in wide-format production more obvious to school and college leavers. It's a golden opportunity for more manufacturers, suppliers and end users to get involved in the print service providers of tomorrow. We will never run out of technology but we could well find there aren't enough people to work with it in the future.


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