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Educating and training for today's sign maker

When it comes to gentrifying skill sets and learning about new sectors and products, the job is never done for sign makers. Jemima Codrington caught up with the industry’s leading education and training providers to see what is on offer to help sign makers grow their businesses.

BSGA Director David CatanachDavid Catanach, Director of the BSGA, believes continuing education in the sign industry is more important now than ever.

In the current economy, many sign makers may find it hard to find the money for costs of training, but according to David, the long-term benefits of having an educated workforce are innumerable.

There are plenty of options for education out there, but sign companies need to recognize that if they’re going to move their company forward, they need an educated workforce,” he explains. “Sending someone on a training course doesn’t just result in having someone who knows what they’re doing, it saves the company money on things like waste and mistakes, making it a financially viable decision in the long run.”

The British Sign and Graphics Association lobby for education in the sector by promoting the number of programs and courses available at various institutions across Great Britain. This can vary from full two-year designations to two-day courses offered by partners of the association. “For example, Spandex offer vehicle-wrap training, which we’re receiving a lot of interest in at the moment,” he says. “We’re keen to say it’s available, because not all sign companies are able to send people on courses for two years, so they need quick and intensive training which our members do provide.” LED work is also proving popular for people to learn more about, but there is still considered interest in perfecting elements of traditional sign making like metal bashing, cutting and welding.

Fighting to Raise Awareness

One of the main issues the BGSA is facing is fostering engagement from the Scottish sign industry regarding apprenticeships. At present, there are very few Scottish sign companies expressing interest in official training programs such as apprenticeships or SVQs (Scottish Vocational Qualifications), and as a result, the BSGA is facing funding being withdrawn from that area. “It’s a serious issue,” says David, “because in a few years time, a Scottish sign maker may say they want an apprentice, and they’ll find there’s no funding there for it. It’s detrimental for the growth of our industry.”

The BGSA fights to outreach to this area of the sign making industry, but there are also several other opportunities for education and many companies are taking advantage of them. Whether it’s through colleges or businesses, there are ample ways sign makers can continue to develop their skills. To learn more about the courses that are available and through which providers, visit the BSGA Education website at www.bsga.co.uk/principal-activities/training-and-education/.

Attendees at the Canon Horizon’s centre in a presentation.Sign makers that utilise Canon products can further their knowledge of them with hands-on seminars and training. Canon UK has developed a customer-centric experience centre called Horizons, which allows sign makers to learn how Canon products can help expand their business opportunities.

The centre was designed to provide an experience that is “tailor-made” to the specific needs of sign makers to help them develop their business prospects.

“With Horizons, we’re looking to inspire sign makers and help them realise the vast potential that exists for them to grow their business through a wide range of printing applications,” says Duncan Smith, Wide Format Group Director, Canon UK. “Sign Makers that visit Horizons can also expect to learn about the latest developments from Canon in flatbed direct to substrate printing and associated workflow packages that will enhance productivity, help reduce costs and labour.”

Visitors attend Canon Horizons customer experience day

To achieve this, Canon has spent time developing the programs using four key principles. Firstly, Canon relied on market insight to establish the requirements and needs of the service providers and their customer base. From here, Canon looked at how they could inspire the businesses of service providers and aimed to identify new business avenues and opportunities. The next step is turning the customer vision into reality by delivering new services and approaches, while providing ongoing support to ensure the sign maker is achieving their objectives.

“Horizons, has been introduced to reflect this approach and this journey,” says Mark Lawn, UK & European Marketing Director, Professional Print Solutions, Canon Europe. “We wanted to move away from an old fashioned showroom concept and create an experience which places the customer at the heart of the journey. In terms of the name, we are trying to look forward and see the opportunities – we feel Horizons reflects this well.”

So far the response to the centre has been excellent, with lots of positive reviews stemming from the customer experience day.

Nigel Harvey, Operations Manager, Document Solutions at Sodexo, adds: “It was a very different experience to your usual customer days. Every visitor was accommodated for. The seminars – whilst very organised and thorough - were very flexible and interactive and we could jump in with questions at any point. This made it more personal and productive, and enabled us to extract from the day exactly what we wanted. Canon raised lines of discussion and new ways of thinking that was outside the box, and demonstrated how - as a partner - it could help grow our business through new revenue streams.”

Graphic Arts customer Gary Livermore, Director at Print Warehouse, reflects: “Customer experiences like Horizons are vital in keeping up with the latest technologies, equipment and techniques of this fast-evolving and varied industry. I enjoyed the seminars, which covered a wide range of subjects from digital photo production to web-to-print. The potential of the former was a real eye-opener, while the W2P session cemented some of beliefs I already had, inspiring me to improve on our current service offering. It was absolutely worthwhile attending and I am looking forward to any Canon events in the future.”

Lawn concludes: “The response from customers has been very encouraging. They have clearly seen how Canon is perfectly positioned to help them grow their business over the long-term.”

Herts Signs Estate Agent Project A sign maker wrapping a vehicle

Dean Hicks runs The Sign Training School alongside Jon Tuttle and Ben Fermor. With their technical experience of over 21 years in the industry as well as now being a national wholesaler to the trade and public of plastics, their product knowledge is helping countless training facility attendees improve using their products.

Jon Tuttle trains people with the software and design elements, with Ben Fermor training from the basic sign applications to full vehicle wrapping.

“One of the things we’re really focusing on is teaching people how to properly use things like plastic sheets,” he says. Aluminium composite also is a popular choice for many sign makers. Dean believes that Cut Plastics offer an excellent finished product as well as longevity. The plastics can be used for a variety of signage applications including fascia boards, bespoke signage and more. Having installed signs made with these products and then returning to remove the signs many years later knows the right product for the different applications that are required externally. It’s the knowledge gained through experiences like these that the Training School wants to pass on to other sign makers, so they can make the best choices about their materials.

“A lot of new sign makers particularly will pick a product based on the best price, but we don’t focus on price. This is where the education is so important; there are so many products out there that seem cheap in comparison to higher end products and look identical, but the performance isn’t there. We show people what the value and the quality is. That’s what The Sign Training School is all about.”

Helping start-ups succeed

The school was launched just over a year ago with a view to helping sign makers start their own businesses, as well as brush up on certain skill areas. Attendees can come down to the training facility in Hertfordshire where the school offers a hands-on practical approach with plastics and vinyl as well as the theory.

When it comes to helping companies start up, the experts at The Sign Training School put together affordable packages that encompass training, materials and ongoing support to help future and current sign makers succeed. With a basic start-up package starting at just £4,995 which is exclusive through Sign Update, it’s an affordable way for sign makers to get all the tools for success they need in one place. This will include things like training on design software, manufacturing and installation help, sales and marketing training and information on the overall business process. “Our plan is to work with individuals in the long term, which is why we keep the costs low,” says Dean. “We want to create a learning environment that encourages people to come back to us and continue their ongoing education to solidify the foundations of their business.”

For the training school, the end-goal is to use their many years of experience to help new sign makers avoid making the same mistakes in their own pursuits. “If someone is providing positive and proactive information to you, you can’t really fail,” they conclude.

To learn more about the training facility visit www.thesigntrainingschool.co.uk. To learn more about the plastics used and recommended by the school visit www.cutplastics.co.uk.

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