Want to build your own workforce? Try an apprenticeship program.


Printing has a long history of apprenticeship programs from the earliest days of the craft. From the craftsman’s guild halls of ancient Rome to today’s journeyman and master printers, from Ben Franklin’s printing enterprises to the union halls of just a few decades ago—the printing industry knows how to grow its own. 

Apprenticeships are a big topic with a long history, but if you want to build a program in your company, we’re here to assure you that is absolutely doable, and we can rely on both history and modern programs as our guide.

Apprenticeship programs can take on many different formats. The main thing is that it serves both your company and your trainees. A strong apprenticeship program has the added effect of serving your whole industry and helping build a stable workforce in the printing and packaging trades.

Are there apprenticeship programs in the print media industry?

Models for apprenticeship programs are available throughout the industry and a raft of tools are there for the taking.

  • Heidelberg USA, the world’s leading print media supplier, has a robust apprenticeship program companies can study and learn from.
  • The Mariano Rivera Foundation is another organization that has partnered with the print media industry to create a mentorship program for young adults. A unique program in the trades, the MRF mentorship program targets underserved youth in a specific location. In partnership with Atlantic, Tomorrow’s Office, Ricoh, and Konica Minolta, students participate in vocational training receiving certifications in copier technology, digital design, and Adobe. Students are also exposed to and prepared for local employment opportunities upon completion.
  • The Great Lakes Graphics Association, the oldest print trade association in North America, has amassed resources on training and education in print and graphics and can point you to programs in the midwest that may need companies to provide on-the-job training for the students in the industry, among other great information.
  • Print Industries is developing and launching a “learn-while-you-earn” training model, PI Learning, that combines on-the-job training with live expert instruction, delivered through a rich-media online learning management system. Driven by a new campaign, Print is Everywhere, interested businesses and partners can get involved here.

Aren’t apprenticeships just for electricians and mechanics?

No way! Of course, plenty of other industries have a rich history in apprenticeship and mentorships with heavily structured and institutionalized programs going back generations: electricians, carpenters, truck drivers, diesel mechanics, and machinists. Contemporary and high-tech careers with recognized apprenticeship programs include aerospace engineering, software developers, and computer technician. 

And of course, as we noted, printing as a way to make both a living and a difference goes back to the Revolutionary War and the rise of mass publications under Benjamin Franklin. The good thing about the long history of apprenticeships in the US is that no one needs to reinvent the wheel.

The Office of Apprenticeship, under the Employment and Training Administration in the US Department of Labor, offers an enormous online resource for both job seekers and employers who have apprenticeship programs and those who want to start one. It is a clearinghouse of federal and state information, laws and regulations, and simple “how I do I get started” tutorials—literally something for everyone.

What are the unique challenges in printing employment?

Well, at this moment in history—quite a few. 

  • There’s the misperception that printing is an antiquated environment. But the opposite is true. Faster than ever before print media is becoming digitized, and technology is a core competency for anyone entering the profession today.
  • Our industry hasn’t been competitive enough with pay. We need to increase both starting and master-level rates. Using apprenticeships is a smart way for companies to slowly increase rates while training workers on the job.
  • We’re limited in our recruiting tools. As more trade and tech programs shut down, our industry needs to outreach to communities and families, telling the story of printing as a viable and exciting career choice.

In conjunction with an emphasis on apprenticing and building team members from within, these strategies can begin to transform our industry.

That’s a lot of info! Where do I go from here?

We agree the road to starting an apprenticeship program in the print trade has many points of entry. But anywhere you start will put you on the path to developing a program that will train your employees while they move your projects forward and earn a living. Win-win-win in our book. Pick a door, and walk right through!

And don’t forget to reach out to us. At Semper, we specialize in connecting employers with employees in the print and graphics industries, and we make sure everyone has support to train others and learn on the job. It’s the best way to move up and strengthen our industry overall.

Hiring takes considerable investment from leaders—we know it can be tricky! It’s the core of our business as the go-to staffing partner on behalf of the graphic communications, printing, and packaging industries. When you need a partner to create a team that works, seek out Semper Workforce Solutions. We offer short and long-term direct hire and ready-to-work flex staffing solutions. Register as a client today, or email us directly: always@semperllc.com.