Presidents Post | October


Let’s change, let’s get serious about training more tradespeople. We all sit back and complain about how hard it is to get good staff with good skills, yet we do nothing to change it…. The definition of insanity is doing the same thing repeatedly and expecting a different result.

I speak with a lot of sign makers in my role both in NZ and in Australia, the majority are screaming for staff, all pushing their current staff members too hard not to mention themselves working all the hours under the sun just trying to get the work out the door. It is a huge issue in our industry and is only getting worse.

So, what can be done about it.  Well, it’s simple really, we must train more sign makers.

Ah young people today don’t have any work ethics…. I don’t have the time to train anyone…. Don’t the ITOs do the training…. Etc. We can make excuses all day, but nothing will change.  So, let’s just do it.

There are still plenty of young and for that matter older people out there who want to work and gain a career. Take the time to interview some candidates and get invested in the ones that want to work and learn. Every apprentice I have spoken too over the last couple of years says the same thing, I really want to learn the trade and create cool signage and maybe have my own shop one day.

So, they are keen, they want to learn, they want a future but honestly, I believe it’s us the employers that are failing and creating this shortage of staff by not keeping these future signees engaged and developing a passion.

A lot of shops have started to employ trainees just to get staff and keep producing, while this is an understandable approach it is simply not working. In the last few years New Zealand has had an apprentice dropout rate in the 60 to 70 percent, not to mention those that aren’t formally indentured. I believe there are 2 main reasons for this, the first is the most to blame, specialisation or pigeonholing staff. Production techniques in our industry have changed, I am seeing very few shops who have one person complete a job from start to finish. Most employees are put in a position i.e., running the printers, or applying prints, or wrapping cars and then that’s it. Great for the immediate problem of smoothing production and getting the jobs done but it comes with one huge problem, BORDOM. The younger generations are not known for their patience, they want it all now and can’t understand the concept of” doing your time”. So, for us to protect our future and create a bigger pool of trained sign makers we need to put aside the immediate dollar and concentrate on the future dollars for our businesses, the dollars created by our trained and qualified staff.

If you want a factory worker for your signage process plant, then please don’t employ someone under the guise of an apprentice/trainee sign maker. An apprentice is there to learn, to develop the skills and experience to become a well-rounded professional sign maker, or the correct term a tradesperson. The definition of a tradesperson seems to have been lost or rather changed … I am a tradesman, but I don’t do installs, I am a tradeswoman, but I don’t know how to paint a wall, I am a tradesman, but I don’t know how to use a digital printer. A tradesperson knows how to use all the tools and an apprentice is never going to get those skills if we the employers don’t teach them.

Let’s face it, the current trade apprenticeship is 4 years, I don’t know about most of you, but I knew just enough to get into trouble after 4 years and that was back in the day when shops were full of sign tradespeople and not technology. So, it’s going to take commitment to your businesses future and making the time and yes maybe sacrificing instant profit to protect our sign shops future.

I have seen large shops with 20 some employees have an almost stop in their production because one part of the machine has a sickie, others with monthly staff drop-offs from boredom and lack of inspiration. Imagine knowing that all your team are interchangeable, they all love what they do and are passionate about our industry……. these people exist, they are around us they just need leadership, training, and inspiration to develop the passion for their job that is needed to keep them in the industry.

The second reason we struggle to keep trainees in our industry is the mighty dollar. As an industry I believe we are not rewarding our good employees enough, the younger people coming through need to see a good solid future with good potential to create a good lifestyle from their earnings and we simply don’t offer that enough. In my early career I was being paid $20 per hour when the hourly rate average for sign shops was $45, now the average rate is between $70 to $120, and we still want to pay our tradespeople $25 to 30 per hour average….so we have less trained quality staff available and getting less and less and we want to pay them the least amount we can. That simply isn’t sustainable and if we want to build our businesses and create a stronger industry it must change.

Its up to us. Let’s back ourselves and employ more trainees, train them well, teach them the satisfaction of creating cool bits of art not just products, they will develop the passion and see a good future ahead. Let’s pay our tradespeople well and give them a future with us and the opportunity to improve their skills and once again be proud to be called a Trade Qualified Sign Writer.

If you don’t have the skill base to teach a certain element of your trainees learning, use the NZSDA network of fellow sign makers, reach out and talk to them, offer your knowledge to their trainees, ask for theirs for yours. Together we can fill the skilled staff problem and make the future of employment a better and easier one.

Talk to NZSDA today about our Signee Prevocational Training program or about putting your trainee through the official trade apprenticeship.