Increasing prospects in the hi-tech world of printing

PRINTING is one of our most important means of mass communication and today, in Australia, accounts for the spending of billions of dollars annually.

For the ambitious, this is good news, for although starts for apprentices in the industry are down 50 per cent over the past three years, there are growing prospects for two classes of people _ the unemployed and those who want to change their career path.

The latter might include as many candidates as the former; modern printing is so diverse and is linked to so many technological advances that the industry, in the near future, might well offer rosy prospects to those with the will to retrain.

Until about 10 years ago, printing was rather a restricted, almost mysterious industry.

But the advent of the word processor, the rapid advance of software and, most importantly, the open-mindedness of the printing unions, has seen computer skills fully accepted.

Printing today is virtually completely computer-driven. Just about every step in producing the printed image is now generated on, or in conjunction with, a computer screen, from text to graphics.

Artists now work at a keyboard whereas previously they would have used pens and brushes. Some work still is produced manually, but the bulk of artwork and type can now be generated at the keyboard.

Printing began about 550 years ago. About 1440 Johannes Gutenberg invented printing with movable metal type and for the first time a printer could make many copies of a book; mass production had arrived and a new industry was born.

This moveable metal type is now virtually obsolete, and printing has progressed to being computer-based where the process of reproduction for mass production is generally by way of a photographic medium.

As Russell Worthy, director of the Melbourne College of Printing and Graphic Arts puts it, “from the point of view of the print worker, printing has shaken off the dirty fingernails image to take on a hi-tech base”.

Recently, the first students in the new Certificate in Occupational Studies printing course completed their one-year assignment and, arising from that, Mr Worthy says, 75 per cent of the intake found work in the industry or went on to further study.

“Things are improving on the employment front,” he said. “Even though apprenticeships are very hard to come by at present, there are openings occurring for people with specialised training.”

The college offers full and part-time studies in printing from its three campuses, one in Brunswick and the others in North Melbourne.

What kind of work can be expected to be found in printing? The range is wide.

As the economy picks up, the industry will need skilled workers in the fields of sales, estimating, production control, finished artwork, composition, graphic reproduction, printing and machining, screen printing, binding, small offset printing, to name a few.

Work can be sought in businesses large and small, in the major metropolitan cities and country centres.

Blue-collar prospects include work as a binding and finishing specialist in book and magazine production, as a printing press operator, maintenance engineer, or equipment installation specialist, and the Victorian Printing Industry Training Board ensures that opportunities are equal for men or women.

There are opportunities in printing for electronics engineers, for production engineers and for mechanical engineers.

Other trade fields include camera/press operator, photo typesetters and laser scanner operators.