Garry Richmond has landed one of the most challenging< jobs in print. He is director of Print Scotland, the representative body for the Scottish printing industry. It used to be called Graphic Enterprise Scotland, one of those constructs to make the organisation appear forward looking and dynamic, but which was more confusing than appealing. Before that the association had been the Scottish Print Employers’ Federation, which at least had print in the title.
“We thought ‘let’s just call it what it is’ and it became Print Scotland. It leaves it open to all types of print, wide format, litho and digital, inplant and commercial printers,” he says.
The organisation itself dates back to 1910, in one guise or another. It was founded as the Scottish Alliance of Master Printers as printers north of the border wanted to be separate from the then British Federation of Master Printers. At the time Scotland could boast a significant publishing industry, a distinct financial sector and huge tobacco and whisky industry requiring all manner of print and packaging.
Many of these sectors are now smaller, replaced by government print, the oil industry and a burgeoning creative sector. But the industry in Scotland has suffered from the same consolidation that has afflicted print across the developed world. The commercial web offset sector has gone, book printing is a fraction of what it was and many of the labels and packaging companies are in the hands of overseas groups.
The core membership of Print Scotland has to be the smaller enterprise, and Richmond is acutely aware of this. Membership benefits are tailored to these companies. There is a strong HR and legal support structure, and more practical deals, on courier costs and car purchasing for example, which have a direct benefit to smaller businesses unable to strike such deals alone.
“We can call on 12 HR managers for support. They will come to a site and get involved with problems and will help create contracts of employment and employee handbooks,” says Richmond.
There are insurance packages, access to business seminars and workshops, health and safety audits and the opportunity to join project groups on issues affecting the industry.
Print Scotland is also the body responsible for training apprentices in Scotland after Glasgow college decided it would no longer offer apprenticeships in print. It has taken on the mantle of delivering Modern Apprenticeships under the Scottish Training Scheme which provides a grant from the Scottish Government to cover the cost of training.
There are also a range of Scottish Vocational Qualifications on offer. It is not something that the organisation does to make a profit but because “nobody else is delivering print apprentices in Scotland”.
Today there are 25 apprentices on the books of Print Scotland. Richmond would like more. At the third annual awards for apprentices, Print Scotland handed out six awards, he told the six apprentices receiving awards and the audience of colleagues family and friends, that “our members, and the industry as a whole, faces a significant succession gap in the next ten years, as highly skilled and knowledgeable printers set on retiring are not being replaced in sufficient volume with new blood.
“The print industry in Scotland needs a constant flow of apprentices to prevent that, and the high calibre young people we have celebrated this evening, in even greater numbers, is very much what our industry needs. There are some switched on managers who understand they need to bring in new people.”
One of the biggest supporters of apprentices in Scotland is Bell & Bain where Fiona Buchanan, a history graduate, and Louise Docherty, who studied cell biology at the University of Stirling, as well as being daughter of Stephen Docherty, the company’s managing director, have joined the business as modern apprentices. Both are working on the production side.
“This is now a very different market and a very different industry,” Richmond points out. “In Scotland we are down to those companies that are very good at what they are doing and could survive.
“We understand the pressures that people have. We can provide the support needed, to take on an apprentice, so there is no cost for taking on people.”
If filling the demographic gap is the largest single issue the industry faces, it is not the only one. Recession has forced companies out of business and those that remain need to examine every pound spent. Membership of a trade association is not the automatic decision it once was. And the organisation has given up the prestigious Edinburgh address for less formal arrangements.
Consequently when Richmond took up the role 18 months ago, he was handed three targets: grow the membership; deliver real benefits; and lobby on behalf of members.
He has spent 30 years of a working life employed on the operations side of print, including rising to be production director of label printer Ritchies, and 13 years working for Ricoh and at the City of Glasgow print works, an operation with 30 staff.
Now he considers himself as “almost a sales person,” explaining the benefits of joining the organisation to printers spread across the country and trying to help them with any problems.
It is not easy. Scotland is a country where apart from the major cities, the industry is spread to every corner and at times of the year, the weather can add another complication. There are 45 members currently, a rise of eight under his tenure. Associate members drawn from suppliers who want to have conversations with the industry.
This is around 10% of a population of 400 businesses that could be considered to be involved in printing to a greater or lesser extent, employing between 6,000 and 8,000. One challenge is that a good number do not consider themselves to be part of a wider community in print.
“Many may never have heard of us,” he says. Or perhaps have considered the organisation to be something for traditional printers, not relevant to them. Richmond needs to build the profile, to reach and then convince this untapped audience. Social media, website and activities like the apprentice awards, now in their third year, are part of the effort.
For Richmond, it means piling on the miles and use of those twin modern tools – Twitter and Facebook. And it means looking for deals that can become benefits to members and to make membership more attractive financially.
This can be difficult compared to the days when employer organisations regularly locked horns with the employee organisations, the print unions. That fight has ended. Instead for members of Print Scotland, the fight is to win work for its members and the biggest source of work is the Scottish government.
As elsewhere the dreaded tender rules, often demanding information that is not directly relevant to the job in hand. The government has declared its determination to keep Scottish work in Scotland.
As the agency handling this is an English business with its own production facilities ‘down south’, there is extra complexity. “But we are pushing hard,” Richmond says.
He is pushing government too on the apprenticeship issue. “Many printers find it difficult to afford an apprentice, while there is a huge succession gap. We will have a massive shortage by 2030 when more than 70% of employees will by then be more than 50 years old.
“This is not an issue for printing alone, it’s something other industries share. Likewise we are not seen as attractive enough to young people to attract the talent.”
The absence of a central print college has forced a more creative approach to training, using a buddy system where the trainee is guided by someone with perhaps 30 years experience in the industry. “We have asked for funding to develop 30 apprentices a year,” he says, not whether this has been granted.
Richmond has seen the benefits of this approach at close hand, having worked for Ricoh where the training was key. He says: “They were very switched on and understood the need to bring on young people.
“We have to cast the net and attract people from a wider area to replace a printer who once they start in the industry, are less likely to move. Youngsters don’t desire to do factory work – there are so many other options open to them. We do appeal to people who are craft or mechanically minded and a lot of people love graphic design. We find that a lot of apprentices now have some aptitude for that.
“There are a lot of career paths open to entrants and the skills they gain can take them anywhere in the world because demand for print is everywhere and people will have a recognisable transferrable skill.”
But there will be no need to travel. Richmond reckons that the only way is up for the industry in Scotland. Capacity has been driven out to the point where English and Welsh printers are hunting for work north of the border.
“We have reached the point where there is enough capacity to sustain the printers that have survived,” he says.
But his work is not complete. The industry association remains relevant, the more so in an age where networking, whether social or otherwise, is considered a key skills. The role of the association is simple: “It’s about having as many partnerships as possible across the industry and to bring people together as a cohesive voice.”
Garry Richmond is fighting the corner as director of Print Scotland, aiming to attract more apprentices into the industry and fighting the industry's corner with the Scottish government. The qualification for printer is also wider than previously he explains.