Your Prepress department


Well-known member
Management expects all technicians to be able to pick up any job and work it to completion. In reality, through the years, we have all specialized or become familiar with certain product groups or customers. One tech may be a whiz with Photoshop or another is highly skilled at setting type or creating dielines.
Although we all know how to accomplish a task we have a departmental shorthand that we use to get work out the door. Recently we had a team member retire and now management is concerned that not everyone has the skills they thought we had. Unfortunately, many of the things we do cannot be automated. How can we relay this to management? How do other shops handle this? I look forward to your responses.
In terms of communicating to management, perhaps foreign languages can be used as a metaphor. The team might have started out knowing the various "languages" (skills), but if you don't use it, you lose it. Perhaps you're still "conversational" enough that you could pick it back up but maintaining a skill requires using the skill.

As for avoiding this, you'd probably need to purposefully, evenly, distribute jobs that require the wide variety of skills management wants everyone to have to everyone on the team over time so everybody gets a chance to keep using those skills. Maybe the trickiest of jobs get routed to the resident "specialist" so you don't lose the benefit of specialization.

An obstacle to doing this in our shop is the reliance on a specific employee's "familiarity" with a regular customer or job type. If you can somehow document the quirks specific to each customer or job type, you can help reduce reliance on any one person's familiarity. Then get the techs to read said documentation and keep it up-to-date...obviously, way easier said than done.
I completely agree OffsetStorefront. In our plant we do industrial screen printing, mostly on plastic substrates. We use Esko and are concerned with things like distortions due to the molding process, adhesives, coatings, etc... and in our sister plant we do offset and large format. We are all "Graphic Techs" but some rarely open an Adobe app and others live in the Creative Suite. It's an odd mix for sure. To management we are all interchangeable, and as our numbers dwindle due to retirement and better offers, the fact that we are not has been exposed. The analogy I used was baseball and golf. They are both sports that you swing a stick at a ball but the similarities end there. It's frustrating. To make matters worse, those of us who may be inclined to hang around and impart our collective knowledge on the next generation are just planning their exit strategy.
You have to be honest and clear, describing the situation to the management. Eventually they have to raise salaries (to avoid skilled tech going away), and make a plan to acquire, teach and hold talented operators. This is not the golden age of DTP anymore, you can't just grab a random guy from the street to do something fancy in Coreldraw, making the buyers ever more happy. In our practice, the learning curve is around 2-3 years, so there is a lot of effort and money going into a colleague, before he/she can do actual valuable work without constant supervision.
I am in sales for Hybrid Software. I used to be a prepress guy in my former life but now I get the joy of selling software to companies in our industry. I hear the same desire from ownership/management all the time. They want everybody to have global expertise. There are many reasons why this can't or doesn't happen. Tribal knowledge is very apparent in our industry.
This all being said, I have worked with customers in helping them take advantage of modern technology. A lot of times a prepress person is getting everything dumped on them because that is the way it has always been done. But our industry has changed dramatically over the last 20 years. PDF is finally becoming the file of choice by many. Workflow automation has become more powerful with integrations into business systems.

With the technology innovations that have surfaced, there are opportunities to build solutions that allow simple things to be done via automation or by another department like customer service with a simple solution.

Just my 2 cents
Thanks for all your replies-they are very helpful in my formulating a response to management. Puch, your point about the golden age of DTP made me smile...I miss those days. PeteKincaid, you have an interesting perspective and your comment regarding tribal knowledge is spot on. Management feels a graphic tech is a graphic tech and we can be scheduled like we're punching out widgets. Nearly every job we do is custom with customer-specific specs. When a suit walks in and wants to know how many clicks of the mouse it takes to do a job it is frustrating indeed.
Nearly every job we do is custom with customer-specific specs. When a suit walks in and wants to know how many clicks of the mouse it takes to do a job it is frustrating indeed.
I can remember the owner at a job interview asked me:
"How fast can you pull tape?"
I thought for a moment and said,"I am a very accomplished stripper and work quickly."
He replied, "How fast can you pull tape?"
So I reached over, grabbed the end of the tape on the dispenser, pulled off a couple of arm lengths, and said,
"There, that's how fast I can pull tape."
I got up and left. He was speechless. I went on to a much better position with a different company.
:unsure: - So how many clicks of the mouse???
Too funny! Back in the stripper days you would need to make a tab of sorts on the end of the red litho tape to allow for easy removal. Many of the srtippers would put the tape to their lips and suck to create the tab. The old German owner frowned on that method, as the sucking sound was like nails on a chalkboard to him. He could make the tab with a dexterous flip of his fingers - with either hand - and expected everyone to learn his method. You should see me with a roll of duct tape ;-)


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