Print Production Planner

The Job and What's Involved

A print production planner helps to control the flow of work in a printing company. It is the planner's job to ensure that printed products are delivered on time and to the quality the customer requires.

The role can be a hectic one. Print companies may have a range of products in progress at any time, ranging from books, magazines and brochures to more specialised products.

Planners are likely to be responsible for several orders at the same time. They must think ahead, working out how to make the best use of the printing staff and machinery available to make sure that each job is completed on time.

Planners are likely to draw up work schedules on a computer, using spreadsheets. They may use computerised systems that produce a specification for each product.

Their day-to-day tasks may include:

  • Checking orders as they come in.
  • Drawing up production schedules.
  • Allocating work to print staff.
  • Supervising work as it is done.
  • Checking the quality of material during production and when it is completed.
  • Liaising with customers if any changes to specifications are required.
  • Explaining any problems or delays to customers.
  • Making sure that health and safety legislation is observed.

In addition to talking to customers, planners must work very closely with colleagues, including production, management and sales staff. They are likely to attend frequent meetings to discuss work flow. They may report to a print or production manager.

The working hours of print production planners vary according to the type of organisation they are employed by. In smaller companies, production planners may work standard office hours, Monday to Friday. When a lot of work has been ordered, they may have to work extra hours to ensure jobs are completed to schedule.

However, some larger companies run a 24-hour operation to make the most efficient use of expensive print machinery. Their planners may work shifts, including some early mornings, late nights and weekends.

Technology has speeded up print processes in all stages of production. This has led to customers expecting shorter deadlines, and planners often work under pressure.

Planners are usually office based, but spend a lot of time on the production floor.

When working near machinery they may need to wear overalls, ear protection and other safety gear.

They may travel occasionally to meet customers.

Salaries may start from around £16,000 a year. An experienced print production planner may earn £30,000 a year.

Senior planners may earn up to £35,000 a year.

Getting Started with this Career Choice

There are about 10,500 printing companies in the UK, employing around 140,000 people. Around 90 per cent of them are small family-owned firms which employ fewer than 20 people.

Printing companies are found in towns all over England. There are significant numbers in London and the South East, and also in Leeds, Manchester, Nottingham, Birmingham and Bristol.

Printing is sensitive to changes in the wider economy, seasonal fluctuations in orders and the growing use of online resources rather than printed material. However, the industry is still robust and skilled employees are in demand.

Vacancies are found in local press and in trade publications such as PrintWeek. There are also specialist recruitment agencies which have their own websites, such as www.jobsinprint.com.

Education and Training

Some print production planners enter the field in a more junior role, such as production assistant or machine printer, possibly through an Apprenticeship in print and printed packaging. They may seek promotion after experience in different parts of the operation.

While there are no set entry requirements, employers may expect four GCSE's (A*-C), or equivalent qualifications. English, maths, technology and art and design subjects may be preferred.

Apprenticeships and Advanced Apprenticeships provide structured training with an employer. As an apprentice you must be paid at least £95 per week; you may well be paid more. A recent survey found that the average wage for apprentices was £170 a week. Your pay will depend on the sector in which you work, your age, the area where you live and the stage at which you have arrived in the Apprenticeship.

Entry to Employment (e2e) can help to prepare those who are not yet ready for an Apprenticeship. In addition, Young Apprenticeships may be available for 14- to 16-year-olds. More information is available from a Connexions personal adviser or at www.apprenticeships.org.uk.

There are different arrangements for Apprenticeships in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.

For further information visit My World of Work www.myworldofwork.co.uk/modernapprenticeships, Careers Wales www.careerswales.com; and for Northern Ireland contact www.careersserviceni.com.

The Diploma in manufacturing and product design may be relevant for this area of work. It focuses on the design and development of products, the use of different materials, and the commercial side of manufacturing.

Some print production planners have degrees, foundation degrees or Higher National Diplomas (HNDs) in subjects like:

- Printing management
- Print media management
- Graphic communications
- Publishing
- Business studies

Entry to an HND course is usually with a minimum of one A level, or equivalent.

Entry to a degree course is usually with five GCSE's (A*-C), and a minimum of two A levels, or equivalent. There are no set entry requirements for foundation degrees, but one A level and three GCSEs (A*-C) may be required.

It is important to check specific entry requirements with individual colleges and universities.

A Few More Exams You Might Need

Training is done on the job and is supplemented by attendance at short courses or by distance learning. Courses include:

A ten-day course designed as an introduction to the sector, run by the Institute of Paper, Printing and Publishing (IPP): students are assessed continuously and it leads to the IP3 Certificate.

A higher education course in printing, packaging and graphics on a part-time, distance-learning basis at Leeds College of Technology in affiliation with the University of Leeds: candidates can study to certificate, diploma or degree level.

Qualifications that can be achieved in the workplace include:

  • NVQ Level 3 in print administration.
  • ABC Level 3 Award in print production and workflow management.

The British Printing Industries Federation (BPIF) offers short courses in specific skills, including a course for employees wishing to progress to team leader roles in the industry.

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Skills and Personal Qualities Needed

A print production planner must:

  • Be extremely well organised.
  • Understand the equipment available and the staff time required for each process.
  • Be good at juggling priorities.
  • Be a good judge of design and finished appearance.
  • Have good communication skills.
  • Be numerate.
  • Be confident with IT.
  • Be a good team worker.
  • Be able to work effectively under pressure.
  • Be good at influencing others.

Your Long Term Prospects

There are prospects of promotion to production manager and to works or general manager.

After gaining experience, some planners specialise in one area of production. This may be in estimating or, after further training, an account management or customer relations role.

Small companies sometimes offer greater responsibility earlier and the chance to gain skills and experience across a range of specialisms more quickly. However, it may be necessary to move between employers to gain promotion.

Potential managers in the print industry can join the YMP Organisation, which offers structured training programmes, company visits and networking opportunities. Membership is open to anyone who works in printing or a related industry.

Get Further Information

British Association for Print and Communication,
Catalyst House, 720 Centennial Court,
Centennial Park, Elstree,
Hertfordshire WD6 3SY
Tel: 020 8736 5862
Website: www.bapc.co.uk

British Printing Industries Federation,
Farringdon Point, Farringdon Road,
London EC1M 3JF
Tel: 020 7915 8300
Website: www.britishprint.com

Institute of Paper, Printing and Publishing,
Runnymede Malthouse, off Hummer Road,
Egham, Surrey TW20 9BD
Tel: 0870 330 8625
Website: www.ip3.org.uk

Proskills, Centurion Court,
85b Milton Park, Abingdon,
Oxfordshire OX14 4RY
Tel: 01235 833844
Websites: www.proskills.co.uk and www.prospect4u.co.uk

YMP Organisation
Website: www.ymp.org.uk

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