Industry Insights: Today's Students are Tomorrow's Signmakers
By Lori Anderson, President & CEO of the International Sign Association (ISA)
Yaron Lew, Lauretano Sign Group’s chief operating officer, says the first Friday in October has become an important date on his calendar. For the past four years, that has been the day when Lauretano has welcomed local students as part of Sign Manufacturing Day. The annual event, sponsored by ISA in conjunction with the National Association of Manufacturers, brings in students to learn more about careers in the sign, graphics, and visual communications industry.
Like so many others in our industry, hiring has been “a very big challenge in some areas,” Yaron said. “Painters, welders, fabricators, and installers are very hard to find. It’s a little bit easier in shipping/receiving, channel letters production, CNC operations, and in the office. Designers and estimators are very hard to find, while sales and project management is somewhat easier. We recognize, of course, that anyone we hire will need to be trained on the particulars of the sign industry.”
Sign Manufacturing Day is helping to solve that issue. Lauretano was successful in hiring one employee who came in as a student to tour the facility on Manufacturing Day. He was hired as a welder, and has since expanded into fabrication. “He likes the fact that it’s not a routine of doing the same thing every day, over and over,” Yaron said. “It’s a little bit of this and a little bit of that. One day he will be welding a frame, the next he might be wiring a sign and another day he might be fabricating the skins. We like our workforce to be cross trained and this employee was very successful in adapting to the idea of cross training.”
Others have found the same thing. Alfonso Guida was hired at Signtech in San Diego after touring during Sign Manufacturing Day. Initially a welder, Alfonso loves the diversity of his career. He recently filmed a video for ISA, talking about how great it is to work in the sign, graphics and visual communications industry. You can see the video at www.signs.org/alfonso.
At Lauretano, one successful hire marks the beginning of a relationship that can continue to pay off as the happy employee introduces friends and former classmates to the career opportunities there. It also serves as a bridge to the school and its instructors.
“We told him to bring in friends and spread the word that we are hiring. We hope that he will,” Yaron said. Even on those rare occasions when there aren’t positions open, continuing to raise the visibility of Lauretano is important. “You may not need somebody right now, but you will in the future,” Yaron said. “The more we are known and recognized, the easier it will be.”
That is so true. Our industry faces a very real threat when it comes to finding and keeping workers. When I’ve attended Sign Manufacturing Day events, I see how excited students become when touring top sign manufacturers. They see products that they encounter every day—but never thought about how those signs are designed, fabricated, installed, and maintained. Once they begin to understand that, they can see themselves working in our industry. Each year, we survey participants and have seen a fairly consistent number of participants who are now willing to consider a career in our industry. Before, they didn’t really know we existed.
In an industry that so often puts the spotlight on others—helping businesses build their brands—we don’t often shine our own light. Events like Sign Manufacturing Day can do that—and pay dividends. So often, people drive by our buildings and have no idea that what occurs inside contributes to strong businesses. Those businesses create the kind of communities that we all want to live, work, and raise families in.
It’s time we open up our doors a little bit and showcase the great work that is done inside our facilities. I hope you’ll join Yaron in circling the first Friday in October on your calendar for Sign Manufacturing Day. This year, it is October 6.
ISA has created a number of resources and tips designed to help you make the most of this day, including videos and flyers that you can share with attendees. You can see some of the resources at www.signs.org/careers. Others will be provided when you sign up to participate.
One thing we can all learn from Lauretano is to invite local, state, and federal political leaders. That will not only raise the profile of the event with students, but also may gather some press coverage. Local media coverage is another way of hanging out the proverbial “now hiring” sign.
Most importantly, participating “doesn’t interfere with getting work done in our shop or in the office on that day,” Yaron said.
If you’d like to learn more about Sign Manufacturing Day, including how to participate, email firstname.lastname@example.org. Then, get out that red ink pen and circle October 6. It is a day that can pay dividends for years to come.