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Entrance to the Lithographic Trades

( Originally Published 1930 )

Education and Training Required.—Employers in the lithographic printing industry require beginners to have at least one or two years of high-school education. Many of them prefer high-school graduates because they feel that the added education is of value to the worker. Definite technical training is asked only of those who wish to be artists or engravers. They should have had some special art courses before applying for work in a lithographic plant. All other prospective workers in this branch of the printing industry should have a broad general education which will enable them to be intelligent and efficient craftsmen. The required technical knowledge can be acquired while working at the practical jobs.

Age of Entrance.—No one under the age of sixteen is hired as a worker in the lithographing plants. As a rule, older boys who have had more than a year or two of high-school education are preferred in certain departments. Older people are generally more capable of accepting responsibility, and the valuable person in industry is the one who can do his work well without the constant supervision of the foreman or the superintendent. It would be well, therefore, to remain in school until the basic education is fully completed and a more mature age has been reached.

Physical and Personal Requirements.—The work in this industry is not particularly hard or unclean. The only physical requirements are a sound, healthy body and the full use of both hands. A person who is handicapped in the use of his hands would not fit very well in a lithographing plant because the greater part of the work is performed with hand tools.

Persons with varying qualifications are required for the jobs in the different departments. The artist should have the ability to concentrate on a job and to work out original ideas for advertising purposes. He must not be nervous, and he should have a liking for work in quiet surroundings. The proofer should have a good eye for color, and he should be able to mix properly the various combinations needed to make the best looking product. The transferman must have a quiet disposition and the ability to do detail work. He must be very accurate in order to be able to locate correctly the different designs that usually are found on one plate. The pressman should be mechanically inclined, in order to be able to operate the presses efficiently, and he should also have a thorough knowledge of colors. The other workers need not have any special personal qualifications; but in common with all persons in industry they should be punctual, honest, and industrious.

Method of Entrance.—The only way to enter any of the skilled occupations in the lithographic field is as an indentured apprentice. An apprentice is one who makes an agreement with an employer to work for him for a stated period while being taught the fundamentals of the trade. The agreement or indenture specifies what each party to the contract must do; and it is signed by the apprentice, the employer, and the father or the guardian of the boy. The apprenticeship period in this industry is four years. During that time the apprentice usually attends a vocational school or a trade school for several hours each week until he has completed the required school work. Here he is taught some of the things which he cannot learn in the shop. The training which the apprentice receives both in the shop and at the school enables him to do skilled and efficient work when he has completed the learning period.


The working conditions in lithographing plants compare favorably with those in most other industrial plants in most communities. This is due to the fact that the work does not require a great deal of physical exertion; and it is performed in clean, well-lighted, and well-ventilated surroundings. There are no dangers in this industry, because all the machinery is well-guarded, and the lithographic workers have no unusual health hazards to meet while doing their duties.

The hours of work are usually 48 per week, with the plants running only a half day on Saturday. The earnings of the workers depend upon the skill and the efficiency with which they perform their tasks. The apprentices are started at the lowest wages and are given the opportunity to work themselves up to a point where they receive the highest wages. The nature of the work makes it impossible to pay on a piece-work basis, so every one is paid a regular weekly wage.

There is very little seasonal change in this industry, and the result is that the workers are usually employed steadily all year round. If any lay-off does occur, it is due as a rule to the scarcity of orders. But due to the fact that there is a shortage of skilled lithographic workers, and also because this is a growing field of work, it is evident that the skilled person can always find steady employment.

Promotional Steps.—Everyone who enters this branch of the printing industry must learn his particular line of work through the apprenticeship method. When the training period is completed, the position of journeyman is open to the apprentice. After that, if he has the ability to handle people and to teach them, as well as years of experience in the industry, he may become foreman of a department. The next promotional steps are to the positions of assistant superintendent and superintendent. These positions are open to those men who know how to plan the work, who are able to portion it over a period of time and among a number of people, and who have the technical knowledge. Usually only the older and more experienced men are able to hold such jobs.

The Value of Education.—Specialized technical education relating to the work carried on in a lithographing plant is not obtainable in many schools. Practical experience gained at the various jobs is the method by which skill is acquired in the lithographing operations. The acquired practical experience, however, should be supplemented by general education. General education helps one to analyze or investigate problems in order to determine better ways of handling them.

Basic general education also assists one in meeting the problems of life outside of the work. In addition to an industrial life, each one of us has a social and a community life for which preparation must be made. We should know how to spend our leisure time in the enjoyment of good literature, good music, and good plays, as well as in recreation that will benefit us physically. We should be prepared to take an intelligent part in community affairs and in the election of city, county, state, and federal officials. These duties are as important as our industrial responsibilities, for our form of government is based on the idea that the citizens should have a voice in its management. A study of history, English, mathematics, general science, and civics may well be a part of the education of every person entering this field. If any one finds it impossible to complete the fulltime school, he can attend the part-time vocational school in some cities while working, if he is between the ages of fourteen and eighteen. Here he can obtain some general education as well as training in the fundamentals of a trade. The night high schools, the extension divisions of the universities, and the night vocational and trade schools also conduct classes which can be attended by those who wish to have more advanced training. The facilities enable every one to obtain as much education as he may desire.

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