How You Can Help Build Craftsmanship Standards

Confronted as he is with the danger of losing more and more of his creative functions in the production of the printed word, it seems that the compositor of today should be more concerned than he is with maintaining the craft traditions that have been handed down to him by generations of great printers. During the last 15 years, there has been an increasing tendency to consider the printer simply as a mechanic. If this trend should continue, there is no doubt that the initiative will be lost and along with it the opportunity to maintain craft standards.

It is my firm belief that once the nation’s printers are aware of the danger, they can readily bring about a revival of interest in the pursuit of printing as a craft. Rightly, the place to begin is in the elementary and high school printing classes. As a trade, we have a dubious record in this respect, being inclined to blame the schools if we can’t find trained employees, but being lax investigating carefully the conditions under which many of these classes operate.

It comes for and organize committees, to examine the printing education programs offered by schools, to render assistance where required, perhaps to censure in some circumstances. Is the equipment up-to-date? Is the instructor,? Is the lesson material designed to meet local conditions of employment? Is the shop overcrowded with students?

More Guidance Is Needed

One of the common practices in high schools is to assign pupils to the print shop without proper guidance to determine whether they are suited to such a vocation. School which offers several shop courses, the printing class may be used as an alternate one forces which have for popular appeal, such as automobile mechanics carpentry, are filled. Under such a policy, the shop may be overcrowded students not particularly interested in printing, making it difficult to offer a will while learning experience. On the other hand, I know one high school shop in which the standards are so high that only young people of above average scholarship are permitted to take the course. A careful instructor is responsible for this high level.

Printers are often critical of the level of instruction in school printing apartments. Under state and local educational requirements, the printing teacher is, in many instances, a graduate of a teachers’ college in industrial arts, but he has had no practical trade experience. Such a person needs the support of local printers in his efforts to perform his tasks satisfactorily and to be of maximum service to his students. He can be invited to local plants to observe methods of actual operation. Since there is normally no question about his teaching ability, as such, it then becomes the responsibility of the printer to a sure the adequacy of his technical knowledge.

But the responsibility of the printer does not end here. Once he has reasonable assurance of adequate personnel at the apprentice level, he must turn his investigative forces on the period of apprenticeship itself. He should never be content to assign only routine tasks, hoping that the boy will hurry through the basic learning period in order to be available for journeyman’s assignments at an early date. The more culpable employer, incidentally, is not above charging full-time for the work produced by the apprentice.

Throughout the term of the apprenticeship contract, the printer should follow each step with concern, assisting and encouraging. This is the time to instill in the apprentice craft interest and loyalty. If a busy employer does not have time to do the job himself, he should guarantee that the supervisor of apprentices will.

Many sound practices can be of aid in accomplishing this goal. The young printer should become acquainted, first of all, with the best trade publications, the standard manuals, and of course the biographies of the most successful practitioners of the printing craft, in addition to the important histories of the trade.

Further, the local trade associations and other groups, such as the Club of Printing House Craftsmen, can instigate apprentice nights or at least can invite apprentices to those meetings at which notable speakers are scheduled to appear. But the printer asked himself whether or not he has contributed in such a fashion the next time he complains bitterly about the “nine-to-five” boys wore working for him.

All Journeymen Share Task

If we are to maintain century-old standards, it is imperative that our training program the industry-wide and that it become the responsibility of all. Of course it must be understood that journeyman actors must share in this task, since the apprentice will eventually become one with them in the preservation of the ancient creed of the chapel.

Once the problem of coping with inadequate training facilities has been satisfactorily solved, printers can take a close look again at the artist-versus-printer controversy. Here again, the difficulty ends when the two groups concur in united action.

We can safely assume that the product of the art school will always be with us, so he must learn to live with it. The agency personnel manager blithely states the standard maxim, “I can teach an artist about type, but I can’t train a printer to draw a straight line.” However, it is not quite as simple as all that, since generally he doesn’t want to do either. As a result, he does nothing and the artist happily continues to design without regard for his fundamental tool, printer’s type.

True, many artists will take courses in printing if they happen to be offered. The printer, then, should guarantee that such programs of education are available. Furthermore, he must see to it that the courses are laid out by practical printers and taught by them. Should local facilities make such a service impracticable, then the printer should invite young artists from agencies and art services to his plant so that they may observe the mechanical operations of producing a job. A number of firms have offered short courses in the evening, under the guidance of their supervisory personnel. Such sessions invariably show favorable results.

Should the printer wish to pursue this plan further, he might, by group or committee, examine the material of courses in printing design offered by art schools. He could offer practical assistance toward the end of assuring interest and sympathy on the part of the art student for the standards of the printer. For example, a constant demand on the part of design students is for specimens of type, which could easily be supplied.

As the task of producing the printed word becomes more and more complicated with the advent of each new machine, process, or method, we must constantly be on the alert to maintain efficient organization. It is both foolish and uneconomical to allow warring factions to dissipate the know-how of the growing graphic arts industry. After all, we are all going in the same direction. Mutual understanding will be of lasting value to all of us in ensuring the integrity of a real force in our economic life.

This article first appeared in “The Composing Room” column of the November 1954 issue of The Inland Printer.

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