Volume 17 - Spring 2004


Letters & Feedback


Why are we in such a bind?

The Institute of Bookbinding and Allied Trades writes an open letter to the British Bookbinding Industry.

As a long standing industry organisation the Institute of Bookbinding and Allied Trades has begun a debate to address the concerns of our members both in recruitment and quality of training.

Our first concern has been the demise of any form of commercial bookbinding skills and knowledge courses off the job except for one FCP course we are supporting. It is now not possible to obtain a day release course anywhere on this subject. With one or two exceptions, print finishing courses have disappeared. These two factors, we believe, have contributed to the devaluation of this industry sector as far as training is concerned and it has affected recruitment of skilled staff.

With so many jobs going wrong these days, either subject to arbitration or court cases, we believe the industry is losing its way on a number of fronts and this is such a complex subject we can only summarise at this stage.

Basically, because of the fragmentation of many large companies and the setting up of specialist firms (prepress, printing, finishing) as separate entities there is no throughput of knowledge on what a job should look like when it is finished. (This does not generally apply to large firms with all through processes.) The post-process knowledge is no longer present and we believe has not been present in any of the training schemes of the last ten years. It was contained in City & Guilds courses prior to the current one.

We also believe changes in technology have contributed, in that training and knowledge have become more single option in context.

Prepress - Since the transition from hot metal to film planning we believe some basic imposition skills were lost and to compound this, the transition from film planning to digital files has lost some more basic imposition skills. In summary we can, when asked what imposition is wanted for a job, rarely find anyone who can put one together by hand anymore.

Printing - In the quest for ever improving images we believe that less knowledge is being applied to the finished outcome again, with diminishing knowledge on these aspects required to understand the finishing process. The last consideration now is grain direction, when it used to be the first. It is expected that whatever is printed with a high content of solvents in ink and the wrong grain direction of a 150gsm substrate somebody out there will expect it to hold together with one layer of adhesive. The evidence for us is that very few have sufficient knowledge to carry a job to conclusion.

Binding and Print Finishing - It used to be the case that bookbinding apprentices who completed work-based training together with day release were able to put a book together by hand from a set of fiat sheets and materials.

It is now difficult to find any person able to do this aged up to 35, which we believe is further inherited evidence of training decline.

It is not all doom as increasing use of computer controlled equipment in finishing and binding does call for different skills. However, this does not apply to hand binding operations.

This is of concern in the failure to deliver a meaningful system of training for this specialist area. There is a proposal from some of our members to make alternative arrangements for this sector in bookbinding training, otherwise the trade would eventually be lost, probably to overseas competitors.

This can only be a summary of our views and there are many more aspects under consideration. The debate is ongoing and we expect to conclude our discussion by March, when we, together with other societies and organisations, will go public. If the whole of this letter could be summarised in one sentence it would be: "That there is a high level of skill present in the industry for individual operations but in general not many seem to know why and in what context they are dong it.

We know from many sources the view is that this sector of the industry is not getting a fair deal in training. We also believe we have moved to the computer age in running much of the equipment now in use in the industry. We also believe there continues to be an over emphasis in the prepress area to the detriment of the rest.

It is also believed that the ethos of a traditional apprenticeship has been lost where the industry does not own or control its apprenticeship or the arrangement of the content. So much so, employers find the current system and constant changes confusing and do not wish to be part of it.

In short, our members feel that by accepting government grants the industry believes it has been press ganged into a complex paper driven system that does not work for them and longs to return to one of the previous schemes that did.

We hope anyone who is responsible for training in the industry is listening.


Skin Deep - Volume 17 - Spring 2004

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