Outstanding in their Field

“Masters of none” does not apply to experienced sign installers.
Experienced sign installers are valuable employees commanding a wide range of skills specific to their specialized trade.

My father spent most of his working life in the sign business, first as a signpainter and goldleaf artist during the 1950s, then later as a contractor installing national-program, outdoor signage. Highly skilled, Dad described himself as a “jack of all trades and a master of none.” While his description might have been largely accurate in reference to the majority of sign installers working during the 1950-1970 period, it’s unfortunate that this general impression of sign installers as non-professionals seems to persist even today. 

This image shortchanges highly skilled workers in a trade that has become increasingly professionalized during the past 30 years. It also poses nagging issues for the sign industry. For example, in recent years, various state and local jurisdictions have imposed certification requirements relevant to other industries on signshop employees. Generally, such requirements ignore the broad scope of skills signmakers develop over decades of practice. In this respect, there’s actually no significant difference between experienced sign installers and their construction-trade counterparts. Unfortunately, sign company personnel are still often relegated to the Rodney Dangerfield role in contracting. 

MASTERS OF ALL TRADES

In reality, this image no longer applies. Due to growth in the retail sector and a boom in the quantity of signs installed over the past several decades, sign installation has progressed into a highly developed construction trade.

Sign installers are distinguished, not only by the fact they perform diverse operations such as welding, painting, carpentry, electrical, excavating and concrete work, but also because a portion of this labor is performed at substantial heights above the ground. Sign installers are also constantly exposed to the elements, working through the oppressive heat of summer, the bone-chilling cold of winter and every imaginable weather condition in between. 

Installers navigate frequent challenges in safely positioning cranes and aerial equipment.
Installers navigate frequent challenges in safely positioning cranes and aerial equipment.

These often-difficult conditions make sign installation a demanding trade. Another factor is the smaller size of many sign companies compared to firms involved in general construction. This means sign installers typically must shoulder greater individual responsibility for overall project management and job safety. Quite often, they must do so with less labor and logistical support than larger contracting operations. And yet, these realities engender resourcefulness in sign company workers, and successful sign companies depend on their multifaceted capabilities to expedite projects and enhance profitability.

JOB SECURITY BENEFITS

Toughness, flexibility and personal initiative distinguish star performers among sign installers. Job seekers often eschew such old-school demands, and solid candidates have become difficult for employers to locate. This fact not only bolsters the value of experienced installers for busy sign companies, but also heightens these employers’ interest in retaining their services. 

The substantial challenges of this trade also tend to reduce competition for available positions. For this reason, the prospects for long-term job security are sound. And unlike other vocations, sign installation isn’t threatened significantly by automation – nor is it likely to be in the future, a welcome development for prospective blue-collar sign industry employees. 

In our contemporary economy, where job security can be uncertain and many jobs are being eliminated by automation, the sign industry has become an attractive career option. The industry stands to benefit in the long run by the infusion of ambitious, young individuals desiring to learn and pursue this specialized trade. What’s more, barriers to becoming a professional sign installer are far fewer than those applicable to many other construction trades.

Reliable sign installers can expect sound job security.

Reliable sign installers can expect sound job security.

Signs of the Times August 2020

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