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New Talent Wanted

Could the sign industry be doing a better job at promoting itself in order to attract the next generation?



Robin Donovan

NO SECRET HERE: WE love getting letters. And it’s a rare month when we get two at once. After Eric E. Larsen’s June column about training the next generation, we heard not only from a sign industry salesperson, but also from the International Sign Association’s guru of workforce development. Perfect timing, because Eric’s back this month with his suggestions on where to start.

Training in the industry has long been a point of frustration for sign companies. The lack of feeder programs for young people, the small pool of qualified applicants and competition among companies for the few available employees have created a cycle of hiring and departures.

A sign company owner at a regional gathering once told me, “I get new employees who can barely use a ruler.” (Is that true?) I know that ISA would love for sign company leaders to become more aware of its 75+ online-course options. Yet, Eric and others make a sound point: There’s not much training out there that can help someone go from zero to finished sign. There also aren’t enough ongoing programs introducing young people to the sign industry. With the wealth of printers, routers, cutters, etc. available, no one, good solution has emerged for teaching new folks these skills.

From this vantage point, I also think there’s not enough communication between sign-company employees and industry leaders. Let’s face it; the sign industry is known for ingenuity, survival skills and creativity under pressure. Many company owners can handle a cutting plotter as capably as a corporate budget, yet outreach, public relations, and dare-I-suggest human resources can be, well, seen as less important. With generations of family-owned businesses in the field, it has long been assumed that the next leaders would make themselves known, but it doesn’t seem like millennials and Gen Z got the message.

We keep saying the sign industry has a recruitment problem. I’d say it also has a self-promotion problem. Not enough people know exactly what the sign industry does to have an opinion of it, to tell their artistic kids about it, to encourage a crafty tinkerer to explore it. Opportunities abound, but the next generation of sign-company CEOs hasn’t heard of the sign industry yet. That, more than any course, strikes me as the issue that so many are trying to address.




Introducing the Sign Industry Podcast

The Sign Industry Podcast is a platform for every sign person out there — from the old-timers who bent neon and hand-lettered boats to those venturing into new technologies — we want to get their stories out for everyone to hear. Come join us and listen to stories, learn tricks or techniques, and get insights of what’s to come. We are the world’s second oldest profession. The folks who started the world’s oldest profession needed a sign.

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