Photo: Johann Leigh-Phillips – Strategic Account Director
It was 1986, I had just finished my O’levels and had decided that I was going to have a long hard think over the summer holidays about whether I wanted to continue studying or start a career. I had absolutely no idea what I wanted to do. Whilst discussing this with a friend of mine, she said that there was a job going at the printers where she worked. “What do they do?” I asked her, not really knowing much about print at all. ‘I work upstairs in the bindery’ she said, ‘so I’m not really sure but they all have nice cars’! The next day, I walked down to the printers having gained an interview, not really knowing what to expect. As I entered the building, the noise of the presses and the smell of the ink and solvents was like a whole new experience. Wow, is this where I could be working?
The Managing Director and the Foreman interviewed me. They told me there and then that it was me against a number of male applicants and that women don’t run large presses. I walked away thinking that I had no chance and the quick glance around the factory proved that this was a man’s world and there wasn’t a female in sight in the press hall.
I was stunned when I got the letter telling me that I had been successful on my application. The thing that really drew me to this positon was that it was an apprenticeship. I would work in the factory but would also do a block course followed by day release to college with the aim of achieving a City & Guilds in Machine Printing after 3 years.
My worries around should I continue with studying or should I start a career had been solved. I was going to be doing both but the crucial part about it was that I would be learning a trade.
I knuckled down at both work and college. Some of the older guys at the factory were sceptical, and the Foreman gave me a tough time. At the time I felt it unnecessarily harsh but in hindsight it thickened my skin and toughened me up.
I was the only female on the course at college and the lecturers were somewhat ‘old school’. They would ignore me or not ask me to participate in practical sessions because they didn’t think I was strong enough. I had had the advantage of being thrown in at the deep end in work and was learning about and running presses before I started College. The lads on my course knew this and so when we were in a class and all stood around an old Heidelberg press, the lecturers asked for a volunteer to show them what they knew about the press. The lads pushed me forward and I demonstrated what I knew and how a press worked. That was a real turning point for me.
I completed my City & Guilds with Credits after 2 years of the course and went on to run the largest press at work. After a period of time I changed jobs and worked for another printers but I ended up running a smaller press and felt like I had taken a step backwards. To cut a long story short, having grown up in a relatively small village in Cheshire, I wanted to experience a bit of bright lights and big city so I packed up my things in my Ford Focus and moved down South.
It didn’t take long before I got a job as a Factory Manager, looking after a small team with a prepress department, small GTO press, Platen and guillotine. I taught myself and the team to use the guillotine and also the Platen. I loved training people and seeing them grow. I had a great team and I also employed temps for finishing to work with us in peak season. A couple of years later the two owners of the business split and I decided it was time for a change. I applied for a Production Controller role in a financial research printers. It was a role which would use my experience on the factory floor, to plan and progress jobs directly from clients. I would be talking to them about their requirements and planning and advising of timings etc. Financial research is a very fast paced sector, with incredibly tight deadlines that could have financial penalties if they weren’t met. Again, apart from my Line Manager, this was a male dominated environment but you earned respect by getting stuck in with the lads and not expecting to be treated differently because you are women.
Photo: Me in my younger years at Precision with fellow colleague Velma
I liked the client liaison aspect of the production control role and so applied for an Account Manager position at Precision Printing. It was a completely different environment at Precision and the first time that I had encountered another women machine minder. Emma was ‘one of the lads’ during the day but then, after changing at the end of the day, would be seen looking glamorous in her high heels and handbag ready for a night out with the girls. It was a refreshing change to be at Precision, there was a good mix of staff in all areas. Studio, office, factory and everyone was viewed and treated the same.
I was headhunted by a previous manager to work with them at another financial research printers as Client Service Manager and I stayed with them for 10 years, including a secondment working in New York. I left there and took some time out to travel round the world. Print management had become prevalent at this point and so on my return I joined a print management company working on-site at EE (formerly Orange mobile). This was actually very different to print, you took the brief from the client and sourced best solution and pricing. I also spent time working in the marketing team at HSBC’s headquarters in Canary Wharf. The only problem with print management was that you never got to produce anything. You were at the mercy of your suppliers and had no control over timings and quality. Everything was price driven.
During all this time I had kept in touch with and followed the progress of Precision Printing. A turn of events on both parts led to my return to Precision Printing as Strategic Account Director, a role that I thoroughly enjoy. The stand-out quality of Precision Printing is that they employ people based on their skill offering regardless of age, nationality, gender, sexuality or disability. There is an equal distribution of gender within each of the departments with the exception of the press hall and that is purely down to lack of candidates for the rare occasion a position becomes available.
There is certainly more women in print today than there used to be, the barriers that used to be there are no longer as much of an issue as they used to be. Learning a trade such as print is something that can carry you through a variety of different roles in the industry and is a trade for life. I for one would certainly recommend it!