In an industry coming under pressure from price increases, skills shortages and increasingly rising postal charges, it’s crucial to get the message out there that not only is print not wasteful, it’s also a practical and sustainable communications medium. Diarmuid Dawson, Irish Printing Federation (IPF) President and MD at Innovative Print Solutions Ltd and Dermot Downer, Vice President of the IPF and MD at Westside Press Ltd, say the message isn’t getting through. “The lion’s share of the materials produced by the print industry are recyclable, with the industry’s main raw materials coming from European managed forestry schemes grown and replenished at a rate of two to one for pulp production. Print as a form of communication has quite a low carbon footprint if it is produced locally for a local audience. A large number of Irish print suppliers are now working in conjunction with their suppliers and the World Land Trust to carbon balance the paper used in their plants,” said Diarmuid. It’s crucial that the industry steps up its efforts when it comes to promoting print’s green credentials, particularly as the younger audience are so very environmentally conscious. “No-one seems to be talking about the carbon footprint that’s associated with the IT industry and the back-up stations across Europe.”
Last year, I spoke with Dermot about work leaving the State to be printed elsewhere. It’s an ongoing concern for the IPF and a bugbear for the industry as a whole. “We understand that in some cases there may be justifiable reasons such as specialised machinery and technology which might be required for a certain project. In other cases, we’ve been told by clients that the low or non-existent VAT rates being charged abroad can be very attractive, particularly for not for profits, charities, colleges and other government/ publicly funded bodies as they can’t reclaim VAT. Our nearest neighbour’s VAT rate on most print items is zero compared with our 13.5% and 23% so you can see how this might seem attractive to an organisation that can’t reclaim or offset their VAT,” said Dermot. The Federation is trying to get support from the government on this, said Diarmuid, as it’s just not a level playing field. “Our industry is going down by about 10% a year and sometimes it feels like the government is simply waiting it out until we’re extinct. We need help from the government and we need it now.”
For the past five years, the Irish Printing Federation has been in talks with Solas and TU Dublin about how best to restore the apprenticeship scheme. “The Federation feels extremely let down by the government, by Solas and by TU Dublin. A few years back, we were asked to get a commitment from the industry, confirming how many apprentices they would commit to. We did this and after umpteen meetings with Solas and TU Dublin, we were told they could handle 8-10 apprentices a year. A year later, we reported to them that we had 28 apprentices committed to the scheme and last year, we said we had 32 apprentices and about 24 companies committed. Right now, we have over 40 apprentices ready and waiting and about 30 firms but we’re still getting led down the garden path by Solas,” said Diarmuid. Despite the very serious skills shortage within the industry, no decision has been taken on the scheme. “It may be the case that TU Dublin doesn’t want to reinstate the apprenticeship scheme and if this is the case, we need to know so we can adjust our plans. The industry has a huge requirement for skilled staff and we have the apprentices ready to go but the appetite just isn’t there within Solas or TU Dublin so we’re saying to Solas, get someone else to do it and we’ll help,” said Dermot. A lack of accountability within Solas isn’t helping the situation, says Diarmuid. “There’s no-one within that organisation that’s willing to step up and take charge. The situation is completely untenable and it’s also a total embarrassment. The Irish Defence Forces have gotten so frustrated with the whole thing that they’ve decided to train their printing apprentices in Northern Ireland. We’ve met with the company that’s going to do that training but they can’t take on any more apprentice as they’re at their max of 80 apprentices!”
In 10 years, no new print apprentice has entered the industry, says Dermot. “That’s a big gap. I’ve had people approach me to say we need young people coming into the industry but we just feel completely powerless. If I hadn’t seen it for myself, I wouldn’t have believed what Diarmuid and the Federation have gone through over the past few years, trying to get the scheme up and running again. There are people involved in this that are not taking responsibility for a role they’re being paid to do. We’re doing this on a voluntary basis and trying to run our own business as well, but that just shows how important we feel the scheme is.”
The Design Print and Packaging Skillsnet (DPPS) is a valuable resource that’s training workers in various facets of the industry, but it’s not delivering apprentices. One solution that has been put forward to Solas is around offering additional, more technologically advanced elements of the scheme through DPPS. “The apprenticeship scheme as it was isn’t actually fit for purpose. It needs to be completely reimagined and one way to facilitate that quickly is to get DPPS involved. We also have members of the IPF who are more than willing to train people individually on their machines. The excuses that we’ve been given, that they don’t have the people or the equipment, are just not good enough anymore. We can deliver the equipment but all we’re getting is red tape,” said Diarmuid. Two people recently left Innovative Print Solutions Ltd because they couldn’t get an apprenticeship, while Dermot has had three people leave his firm. “The last guy who left now has an apprenticeship as an electrician. His father, his mother and his grandfather were all in the printing sector. The industry is screaming out for skilled workers and yet we have a significant number of people who actually want to take on a print apprenticeship,” said Diarmuid.
Diarmuid and Dermot have told Solas that there’s little point in meeting with them again. “This is the responsibility of Solas and the government but they’re just not taking it seriously. We don’t know who to trust or who to go to anymore and that’s why we’re trying to put this in front of politicians. We’ve been banging our heads against a brick wall on this for years. A bit of attention and respect is all we’re looking for,” said Dermot.
The IPF would like to encourage new members to join in its campaign as it’s only with numbers that the Federation can push for change. If you are involved in print production or a related industry, please contact the IPF by emailing email@example.com or calling 0862027588, www.irishprintingfederation.ie
This article was published in the Irish Printer.