At an open house for the Mariano Rivera Foundation’s print certification training program at Premium Color Group, from left: Mariano Rivera, the foundation’s founder and president; Lisa Vega, executive director; and Luis A. Villa, vice president, Atlantic Tomorrow’s Office.
As the printing industry’s need for new talent intensifies, its most thoroughly conceived partnership for workforce development is making steady progress on multiple fronts.
Mariano Rivera, a legend in Major League Baseball and a philanthropist in private life, is working with printing companies and suppliers in Florida, Texas, and the Northeast to expand a vocational training program aimed at equipping underserved young people with sets of certified and highly employable job skills.
Through his namesake charitable foundation, the New York Yankees Hall-of-Famer is also building a second dedicated training center where students will receive, in addition to career education, the 1:1 mentoring experiences that Rivera and his present-day team see as equally vital to the students’ long-term success.
The first of these centers, located in Gainesville, FL, has produced its first crop of job-ready graduates. It is to be joined by a 40,000-sq.-ft. facility that the Mariano Rivera Foundation plans to break ground for in New Rochelle, NY, this spring.
A third such facility will open in Houston, TX, in June, according to Luis A. Villa (Atlantic Tomorrow’s Office), who is acting as the industry’s principal liaison to the foundation.
Tour for the Teachers
Individual printing companies also are stepping up to the plate on behalf of the effort. Leading off is Premium Color Group, a commercial printer that has provided a hands-on training classroom for new students in its Carlstadt, NJ, plant. Rivera visited the plant on January 17 to review the setup and to meet with about 20 local educators who had been invited to the open house to learn about the program for themselves.
Villa said that on February 13, six to eight students from the guests’ school systems will begin training at Premium Color Group, where they will supplement their classwork with practical exercises on the company’s graphic equipment. Another New Jersey printer, Sandy Alexander, has committed to offering students the same kind of learning experience in its Clifton plant in the first quarter of the year.
The curriculum at all of these sites aims to give students skill sets that will be instantly attractive to employers. The study, provided completely free of charge, consists of up to 360 lecture and lab hours spread over sessions that cover design for wide-format; workflow and print; finishing; products; and business management.
Students can select the areas in which they’d like to concentrate. Those training at Premium Color Group will come to the plant twice weekly after their regular high school hours for classroom lectures, hands-on work in the production areas across the hall, and 1:1 mentoring meetings with their volunteer counselors.
What makes the program unique as a career-building opportunity is the fact that upon completing it, each student will have earned a professional certification that is widely recognized by the industry as a competitive job qualification.
Taught by professional instructors from the vendors that created them, the certifications that students can choose from include EFI’s Fiery Professional and Expert Certifications; Color Management Professional certification from IDEAlliance; product-related and other certified training from Konica Minolta; Ricoh’s Digital Literacy curriculum, designed by CalPoly; and advanced skills in the industry’s most widely used Adobe applications.
Students who complete their full courses of study also will be trained in Lean Six Sigma Project Management by Six Sigma Black Belt instructors.
‘Basically Job Guaranteed’
According to Villa, acquiring this specialized knowledge base is the key to the trainees’ swift entry into a graphic arts workforce that needs them badly. Because most printing companies don’t employ people with certifiable skills, he said, graduates of the program are “basically job guaranteed” when they enter the market with this distinction.
“Jobs are waiting for them upon completion of certification,” agreed Lisa Vega, executive director of the Mariano Rivera Foundation, who also came to Premium Color Group to meet with the educators. The program, she pointed out, can be an important step forward to success for young people who don’t necessarily see a college degree as their way to break into the job market.
Not choosing the college route shouldn’t be seen as a career impediment when an opportunity like the foundation’s program is available, observed Ismael (Izzy) Sanchez, systems support manager, service, Konica Minolta Business Solutions. “In our industry,” he declared, “you can get to the next level by dropping in.”
Some of the school district representatives who met with Vega and Rivera at Premium Color Group glimpsed this kind of value for their students in the program.
Richard Gronda, director of curriculum, instruction, and supervision for Dumont, NJ, public schools, said his district is always on the lookout for “potential, authentic learning experiences for our kids” that can be shared with the school community. The Dumont school system has a work-study program, but it doesn’t include the kind of job training that the foundation’s curriculum provides.
Building skill sets for production management requires good coordination of effort on the part of those doing the training, said Gronda, noting that the program at Premium Color Group “looks like it has that workflow.” He added that the model it follows could be applied to workforce training and development in any industry.
‘College, College, College’
Marc Caprio, supervisor of school counseling services at Henry P. Becton Regional High School in East Rutherford, NJ, said that because the emphasis in career advisement is almost always on “college, college, college,” students usually have no way of knowing that non-academic options like the foundation’s program exist.
“We just want to show our kids what else is out there,” said Caprio, who called his introduction to the program and to Premium Color Group “amazing and eye-opening.”
Nicole De Bonis said she had a list of students whom she could refer to the program from the Saddle Brook, NJ, school district, where she is the director of curriculum and instruction. Students of graphic design in particular should be made aware of the “hidden jobs” they could have with the right kind of practical training, De Bonis commented.
Like all of the Mariano Rivera Foundation’s other initiatives, the certified print training program was developed primarily to benefit young people who hail from backgrounds where career pathways and other positive life experiences can be hard to come by. This is why individual mentor-mentee relationships are provided side by side with the technical training that students in the program will receive, said Esther Omeben, director of the foundation’s mentorship program.
Mentors are qualified, vetted volunteers who offer general moral support as well as career-focused advice. Their guidance helps students to see that there can be “a lot of life, and a lot of opportunity” beyond their present circumstances, Omeben said.
Cooperation vs. Competition
The foundation’s young novices won’t be the only ones studying in the classroom at Premium Color Group, according to Villa. He said that starting in February, other printing companies in the area will be invited to send their personnel to the plant for instruction in digital front end management and other subjects they want to get a better grasp of.
This is a good example of printers “helping each other out” with professional development instead of competing against themselves for talent, Villa said.
Meanwhile, work will go forward on the foundation’s 40,000-sq. ft. learning center in New Rochelle, where vocational training in print and other job descriptions, STEM learning opportunities, and college preparatory services will be provided. Villa said plans for the center include creating a student-run print shop that will produce jobs for schools, colleges, and other institutions in the area.
Everything that the Mariano Rivera Foundation is doing in partnership with the industry will be formally recognized when the Print & Graphic Communications Association (PGCA) presents Rivera with the 2023 Franklin Award for Distinguished Service at its 2023 Franklin Event on March 30 in New York City. For further information, visit https://printcommunications.org/2023-franklin-event/.