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Mon, Mar

What are your thoughts on the flexi-apprenticeship scheme announced by the Chancellor last week? Do you think the sector can benefit from such an initiative? I asked Karly Lattimore, MD of training at the BPIF, for her initial thoughts on this and the other training announcements made in the Budget. “Whilst we don’t yet have the detail, the flexi-apprenticeship proposal will certainly increase access to a diverse talent pipeline within the industry,” she said, adding: “We fully welcome not only the increase in the apprenticeship incentive payments but also the removal of the age limit for the full incentive. With unemployment rising and the economy being what it is, the print industry can create high quality roles to support young people into their first career step in the print industry whilst also addressing their own workforce needs and skills gaps. With the removal of the age restriction the industry can go further and support some of the people hardest hit by the pandemic by attracting someone with sought-after transferable skills and retraining them to play a key part in print.” I’d welcome your thoughts…

So, what did you think of the Budget yesterday? It’ll be interesting to see what the various print trade bodies have to say. I wonder if they - and you - would have liked to have seen more from the Chancellor in support of job growth, as highlighted by Gary Turner (MD of Xero UK) in commenting on the Budget’s impact on small businesses.

A reminder that entry to The Printing Charity’s ‘Rising Star Awards’ close on 7 March. Those aged 18-30 are invited to apply for one of the financial awards to help toward their career development. Those wanting to apply should go to: https://bit.ly/3pWFHn1  And remember that the charity is there to help in many other instances too, and runs a free 24/7 confidential helpline: https://bit.ly/2O3KLsq

News that Pimlico Plumbers is to rewrite the contracts of its more than 250 employees and require them to be vaccinated against coronavirus, or lose their jobs, has set off a ripple of uncertainty through the business world. As employment lawyer Alec Colson of Taylor says, “In short, compulsory vaccines is a legal minefield and employers will need to be very careful how they approach the matter.” Is it something you are thinking about?

At the end of last week Navigator announced a 6-8% increases in paper prices in USA. A bit earlier in the week the European Printing Ink Association issued a warning that “various pressures are likely to impact the printing inks market” – so, I’m taking these to be indications that we’re in for consumables price hikes. Publicly, manufacturers/suppliers are being quite quiet on that front. Are you hearing otherwise privately?

Mmmm…just had an email flagging up a ‘Crisis Communications Digital Workshop’ taking place in May that will “provide practical insights on how to prepare for and respond to a crisis from a communications perspective”. It’s being organised by Westminster Insight, which delivers events “that are timely and relevant to the government agenda and challenges of today and tomorrow”. Methinks they’re a bit late off the mark when it comes to preparing for crisis more than a year after Covid-19 hit these shores, but have any of you made use of such webinars since the pandemic began - and are there subject areas where you’d like to see still more?

It is interesting to see that FaberExposize UK for one is preparing for work to ramp-up again from the exhibitions and events markets. What are your thoughts on these two key wide-format markets? Will we ever see the volumes - maybe more importantly, the margins - this sector was enjoying from that type of work pre Covid-19?

Agfa is opening a new UK showroom next month - which makes me wonder about manufacturers’ best routes to market with products that really require you to witness their capabilities before buying. Plenty of people are telling me that trade shows are old hat, that virtual shows don’t do much for them, and that they don’t want to be ‘sold’ to – so what would suit you best?

Interior décor - what’s in that for you? I ask because for years now we’ve been bombarded with info/comment on what a huge opportunity it is for digital printers. And of course it is - the tech can do so much. But when I speak with MDs of large-format print companies, route to market is often a sticking point, with many saying there are easier ways of diversifying and improving turnover. Has the Covid-19 landscape ‘encouraged’ more of you to invest resources in reaching new customer-bases, perhaps for interiors, rather than relying on ‘up-selling’ new print products to your existing (if indeed they do still exist!) customers?

Do you find ‘greenwashing’ a problem when it comes to the sustainability of print? Since 2010, the Two Sides campaign has successfully influenced the change or removal of misleading environmental claims about print by more than 700 organisations, including many of the world’s largest corporations. That’s great news - though there is still a long way to go. But what is the attitude of these large organisations towards graphics print? It would be good to have some measure of that - not that I can see an obvious way of garnering that type of info. Can you?

Canon is setting out on a new five-year plan as it seeks to regain the profits it’s lost during Covid-19. How far ahead are you daring to plan? I’m wondering how much value you think there is in looking beyond 2021?

As you know, we’ve put back our 2021 Widthwise Survey of large-format print companies until Easter, so that we get a better idea of how the extended furlough scheme and Brexit etc are impacting you all. Are there any particular questions you’d like me to ask? Let me know what grassroots data would be of most benefit to you this year and I’ll do my best to deliver.

Is speed still of the essence? Speed of print kit, speed of delivery to customer, speed of innovation…please mark 1-3 and let me have your answers. I have a few bob riding on what comes out top of the list!

Apparently it’s National Hugging Day today, so I hope I’m not overstepping the mark by sending you all a virtual one - think we all need a bit of tender, loving care at the minute. Are you doing anything particularly unusual to lift the spirits of your workforce? I’d love to hear about it if you are.

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