Letters to the Editor: “Skilled Sign People Wanted” Feedback

ISA’s Alison Kent and Karen Johnson of The Color Goddess weigh in on attracting the sign industry’s next generation.
Bakers' Signs & Manufacturing (Conroe, TX) during a recent Sign Manufacturing Day.

Alison Kent, the International Sign Association’s (ISA; Alexandria, VA) director of workforce development, and Karen Johnson of The Color Goddess (Asheville, NC), each responded to Eric E. Larsen's June 2020 column, "Skilled Sign People Wanted."

Kent: It wasn’t that long ago that we frequently complained about how hard it was to get young people into the sign industry. Mark Wagner [president of Wagner Electric Sign Co.] voiced that concern in Eric E. Larsen’s “Skilled Sign People Wanted.” And while the problem hasn’t totally been erased, there is positive progress being made. Career and technical students in fields like electrical, welding and other hands-on trades are finding our industry thanks to efforts like Sign Manufacturing Day [the next being Oct. 2]. So are students in graphic design, visual communications and business administration.

Our industry has wholeheartedly embraced this event. In the last five years, more than 10,000 students have visited sign, graphics and visual communications companies throughout the US and Canada. Students not only learned more about our industry – [Sign Manufacturing Day also] opened their eyes to the career opportunities that we offer. Sign companies have hired students who visited their shops. Some have implemented job shadowing, internships and co-op programs with the school itself. [This one-day event] leads to an ongoing pipeline of future candidates. 

We no longer can sit around and wait for a trained welder or electrician to choose to walk through our doors looking for an entry-level position. Students who are introduced to our industry say they are more likely to pursue a sign company career – and for good reason. They like the creativity and the diversity of work. They also like how many of our company leaders started out in the trades. 

ISA provides other tools to help companies attract workers, including recruitment resources, a job board and more. Email workforce@signs.org to learn more.

Sleek (Regin, SK, Canada) shows students the ropes during a recent Sign Manufacturing Day.
Sleek (Regin, SK, Canada) shows students the ropes during a recent Sign Manufacturing Day.

Johnson: I totally agree with the article on the need for qualified sign professionals. This problem has existed for many years, and I just wanted to provide my thoughts.

  • I would like to see sign industry associations take a lead on this issue. They could appoint a task force to come up with a plan.
  • There needs to be a curriculum outline that could be followed by any technical institutes, community colleges or even four-year schools.
  • My suggestion would be to address training in semesters, or years beginning with an introduction to the industry with on-site visits to signshops.
  • Follow up with some design courses focused on sign design and car wraps.
  • Next would be courses on basic printing (wide format), mounting, lamination and finishing, as well as cut vinyl and the basics of mounting materials. File prep and color theory would be part of this. So the schools would have to have the basic equipment for that first year.
  • I think it’s reasonable that the association or schools would get support from major suppliers. 
  • Perhaps second-year students are introduced into vehicle wraps, how to design for them and how to use vinyl. Plus, 3D signs. CNC routers are expensive, but that and perhaps small engravers could also be procured.
  • A sign industry lobby could try to get funding as grants to help schools pay for the equipment that is not donated.

Note: Click here for part two of Larsen’s Nuts + Bolts column, where he presents possible solutions to the sign industry’s skilled labor shortage.

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