Steve Power, BPIF Training Co-ordinator
The epic story of the rise of a Shropshire Apprentice
The beginning: Why an apprenticeship? And what's it all about? For me at sixteen years of age, probably the same as most people reading this, limited understanding of the mechanics of an apprenticeship, I vaguely recall an image of an old piece of denture with a cast wax imprint given to young people that could do a job, now that's an apprenticeship! Well maybe back in the days of pipe and slippers, but in today's society it is a lot more structured and bespoke to each print company.
How did I decide to become an apprentice? As a fairly rough and tumble sporty lad I knew what I didn't want to do, which was be sat behind a desk! Quite ironic now as this now makes up a large part of my weekly routine, but I enjoy it!
I was a born again Jack Russell! That was me in a nutshell anything that involved a round object I would catch it, hit it, throw it, I knew my first job must me something fairly physical that involved getting my hands dirty. My opportunity came through a combination of the local paper and my father encouraging me to apply for the position of "apprentice gravure printer". Apprentice printer, sounds like a busy job... Perfect!
Now let me explain, the ingredients you need to become a success as an apprentice (in any career) is a sprinkle of respect, a dash of common sense, a squeeze of punctuality and a great big helping of enthusiasm!
Another very important part of enjoying your role as an apprentice is a company who endorses training and has your training at the forefront of their list. If you are lucky enough to find a company that is passionate about their business this will then rub off on you, and you will stay with this company because they have been good to you and taught you many life skills. They say a sign of a good company is how often employees leave to find an alternative job.
The company was fantastic, I was presented with a very detailed structured training plan based upon every department within the printing department. I began in administration then moved into sales then on to quality control, each training plan lasting between 4-6 weeks with areas of importance to be signed off by department managers. I then moved into print finishing, lamination and then basic one colour printers... so why not just put me strait onto a printing press? That was my job title after all, but to be a highly skilled printer you need to know what happens before the job gets to the printing press and what happens after. This I found invaluable during my many years as a printer, because as a printer if you can give feedback to pre-press as to how to create the job next time round more efficiently or help the slitters by altering certain settings so they have an easier job slitting the material then that's when you start gaining respect.
Along with the work experience I also attended Matthew Bolton College in Birmingham Two days a week for three years, which was a very daunting experience for the sixteen year old from Shropshire!
Printing is very much a skill so there are many variables to keep control of such as pressures, speeds, viscosity, heat, blade angles to name but a few. It is a complex art form setting up each individual job, so anyone coming onto the shop floor asking to "press a green button and start the mchine up' would be greeted with a snar!! "IT'S NOT A MACHINE IT IS A PRINTING PRESS!"
To get to the top of the tree being a printer you have to start off with the basics which was press ready (making the job ready for print), and then as an assistant which meant loading the material, assisting with job changeovers, ordering materials and general housekeeping. Once these are done to a high standard you start to gain some respect from your number one for being clean and organised and you could then move on to a number 2 position, this is where you could tap into the vault of knowledge that the number one printer has. I was always asking questions to get a better understanding of how to run the huge gravure presses, whilst going to a training plan to show competency.
And then eighteen months later the big one! Stabilisers off number one printer full steam ahead, which was very difficult at first, but I learnt a lot from my mistakes, which is great way of learning , and of course with help from the mentors that had trained me up.
To cut a very long story short, after many years as a printer I then moved into a working team leader role, running a press and looking after the other crews and reporting to management. At this time training was greatly encouraged so much so that we had our own learning centre on site, people were re-sitting their Maths, English exams and team leader training . As for me I took this opportunity to take my D32/33 assessors award, during this time I managed to get 12 employees through their respective courses apprenticeships.
I then broadened my horizons and went on a busman's holiday and tried my hand at flexographic printing, again I requested that I undertook my own training programme as I wanted to learn all about the company from sales, design, artwork, pre-press, printing and then finishing and despatch.
During most of this time I also had a second job as a retained firefighter... (See photo of me getting messy at a chimney fire).
The reason I mention this is during my emergency driver's training the instructor mentioned assessing and how much satisfaction he got out of the job role, which got me thinking. I have my D32/33 assessor's award, so that night I put the feelers out to see if there was any print assessing positions out there and if anyone required my services, so now....
The apprentice becomes the master: Well maybe not master more relatable training coordinator!
So now I work for the BPIF! Training apprentices up in the printing industry, giving them the necessary tools and knowledge to become competent in their chosen pathway.
So get in and go far everyone! And good luck!