There actually are courses you can take these days that teach digital prepress. The Adobe suite (Photoshop, Illustrator, and InDesign among others) is taught at many community colleges. I understand that years ago this may not have been true, but anymore the training is there if someone wants it. And by the way, some of these courses are really pretty good and can give someone a great start if they're interested.
I have also worked with people who to my knowledge never went to school and learned everything on the job, and they were some of the best prepress techs I had ever seen.
Actually, those are exactly the things that they teach people. While I agree that on the job experience is always necessary to become proficient at something, many of these courses are designed and taught by people who have worked in the industry and know all about it. I think that most people who would debate this are those who have never had formal training and don't really know exactly what it is.
I am a press operator who has been to school for prepress, so I have a little understanding about all of it. School is a great place to learn about the Adobe suite and the capabilities within the programs. Even though the courses vary from school to school and instructor to instructor, from my limited experience I have found that they teach individuals things about the programs that they can't learn without training of some sort. These programs are only getting more powerful as time goes by and I think that on the job prepress only scratches the surface of what they can do in many areas. Don't get me wrong, I understand that prepress is an acquired skill that must be learned over time and I have seen both good and bad, but to say that these schools don't even teach the difference between an RGB and CMYK workspace, bleeds, spot color to process etc. is a little ridiculous.
Since the 90's I have had to re-train anyone who had classes on desktop publishing. One of my favorites was a Fullsail grad who could not even read a ruler and was amazed when I showed him that Quark had a ruler built in! He still could not figure out the math of a perfect bound book so had to transfer him.
At the risk of sounding 'dated', when I first started in this industry, an automatic waxing machine was cutting edge technology, and it was considered a luxury if you had one.
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