Today we’ve invited a guest blogger to address an important challenge facing our industry. To many of you he needs no introduction, as Dr. John Leininger, Professor in the Department of Graphic Communications at Clemson University, is one of the printing industry’s leading experts. We asked him to discuss how we can continue to attract bright young people to the graphics industry, and he challenges all of us to make a difference:

The title for this guest blog is what was first suggested to me, but I have to turn it around and ask you how will these students, or even college students, hear the message? So here is the real title of this blog today: “What have you done today to inspire a student?”

As a college teacher, I often hear people talk about how hard it is to find good employees to work in the graphics industry. I have been at many trade conferences and heard people say there isn’t anyplace to go to find new people. So how are you going to find new employees to work with print and marketing or to focus on direct mail and integrated communications? Most people think other people should be doing this for them, but I have found the companies that plant the right seeds, reap the benefits in years down the road.

One of the most important aspects in turning the heads of the current generation of students in high school and college is that they want a job that is interesting and one where they feel they are making a difference. To them print is “old” and mail is “outdated.” Neither of these things is true. All they need to do is visit a progressive company that is integrating print with a cross media campaign, or web-to-print solutions for businesses and consumers, or a mail house preparing a one million-piece mailing, or even a USPS Business Mail Entry Unit (BMEU). I took 14 students to the BMEU in Charlotte this last semester and they could not believe the facility was processing 3.5 million pieces of mail a day (day after day). If you want to find great employees next year, plant the seeds this year. Volunteer to speak to a high school class or a 2-year or 4-year college program. But if you do, bring your best game—make a presentation that knocks their socks off. Show them the value of what they will be doing, the importance of doing it right and the part that is actually helping to add to the value of our society. They really care.

I preach to my students this one thought in every class – “Average effort returns average results, above average efforts returns above average results.” That goes for all things in life, not just students’ work in the classroom or on their term papers. It is relevant for every job that runs through your company, for every project that you work on this week and next week. So what type of effort have you been providing to help create a rich field of potential employees? Have you volunteered time to show students around your facility? Have you talked to a teacher at one of the schools near you and offered to help them develop a teaching plan? Have you ever considered hiring a student intern or maybe a teacher intern in the summer? There are teachers who are constantly out in the industry trying to find out what is the next thing they need to be teaching, but they need resources and direction. There are also teachers who never have a chance to get out of their classrooms. How many teachers today do you think understand how to work with the Intelligent Mail barcode™ (IMb™)? I can tell you for a fact, not many. You could bring them in to see how your company is using the IMb™ to track the mail and coordinate company resources and additional interaction with the customer. Show them how variable data works. Give them samples to show the students and challenge them to improve on the campaign—that would be a great class project.

Think back to when you were in school. What events set you on the path that led you where you are today? It was not fate. We move forward in life based on the interaction with people around us. People inspire us, they motivate us and they challenge us to be all that we can be, but if a student never sees the possibilities they never know what options are out there. Think where you would be today if someone helped you see the opportunity earlier in your career.

There are hundreds of companies that have interviewed at Clemson over the years, looking for graduates from our graphic communications program. The ones that invest in the students are the ones students recognize. These companies always find the top graduates. Get involved, make a difference, step up and show the students what an “above average effort” is all about.

I love my job as a teacher, but I cannot do it alone. I am teaching a class (also offered as an industry webinar series) on mailing this summer. I have people from the industry speaking to the class. I could probably manage to present all of the topics myself, but the guest speakers bring credibility and excitement to the lectures (I do make a point to pick great speakers that really know their topic!). I find people are typically willing to help when asked, but they do not often volunteer on their own. If you can make a difference in a student’s life, you will be making a difference in your own life as well.

If you ever want to talk about how you could help a teacher, just give me a call or send me an email, and I will brainstorm with you on what you can do to help motivate the teacher and student.

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