John receives his award from Media Super Chairperson Gerard Noonan.
This future leader couldn’t wait to get started – he completed his four-year apprenticeship in just three
John Billett believes newspapers and magazines will survive and doesn’t agree the print industry is on its last legs. The young gun printer talks to Clare Kennedy.
The rise in digital media poses real challenges for the printing industry, but this young printer, who has just won the national Media Super Future Leader Award that is run in conjunction with the Printing Industries Craftsmanship Awards (PICA), is optimistic about the future.
At 22, John Billett is already a supervisor at Launceston’s print works Foot and Playsted and works eight to 12 hour shifts on a Japanese-made offset printing press. He demonstrated his aptitude for the trade when he completed his four-year apprenticeship in three.
Bill Healey, CEO of the Print Industries Association, says Billett’s decisiveness and clarity during the interview process was a real strength and he stood out in an impressive field of candidates. “The awards demonstrate that, as an industry, we are serious about promoting achievement and excellence to help develop the industry leaders of tomorrow,” he adds.
In recognition of his win, Billett receives an all-expenses paid trip to the 2014 National Print Awards and $2000 for his superannuation account. Not bad for a boy who hadn’t even considered a job in printing when he left school.
In fact, Billett, who loves tinkering with cars, started out with the aim of becoming a mechanical fitter. “I looked around for a job and nothing was going, and then I saw an ad in the local paper for a printing job and it appealed to that mechanical side. I was over being at school, so I took on the apprenticeship,” he says.
He says being mentored by two experienced printers, Michael Ryan and Glenn Chapman, was key to his development.
Looking to the future
I ask his view on the future of the print industry. “A lot of people say the print industry is a dying trade, but I’m not 100 per cent convinced on that. I like to go and buy magazines and newspapers and I think a lot of people still share that opinion. Tasmania is still very hard copy based. We do a lot of big business reports and brochures, and I just can’t see that going completely digital.
“I can see some smaller businesses dying because of being unable to compete, but as far as Foot and Playsted goes (with 40 employees), we have more infrastructure in place than some others, which holds us in good stead.”
Billett has clear ambitions. “I could see myself becoming a production manager but you can’t just fall into those positions unless they’re available. It would be good for me to get some experience now,” he says.
Having worked from the bottom up, he believes he’d relate well to employees and be capable of establishing a supportive team behind him. “I think that’s important. Obviously I’d have to do some management training, but I guess that comes with opportunities,” he says.
Another idea that interests him is flying around Australia, setting up new print machinery and training people, though the chance of scooping such a job may be small, he surmises, due to the fact he doesn’t live on the mainland.
Demystifying the industry
One of his personal challenges is explaining to mates what he does for a living. As an apprentice, he says, he often asked colleagues how they handled the question: what do you do? “It’s not an easy thing to explain. It’s almost a dark art, nobody seems to know anything about it.”
But Billett has an idea that just might help demystify the industry. “I think the only way for people to understand what a printery does is to do a tour; that’s been my way to teach people,” he says. He explains that, among other things, Foot and Playsted produce labels and packaging for local breweries and run a reciprocal tour program for brewery employees.
If Billett were in charge, he’d run an open day at the print works. “If that generated just one customer, I think it’s almost worth it. I mean it’s that tight at the moment, trying to get that work would be a good idea,” he says.
In his spare time, Billett likes to get his hands dirty. “I’m right into cars and welding in my free time, so I enjoy the mechanical side of the trade,” he says.
During his apprenticeship, circuit-racing cars was a passion. “I have a workshop with a hoist, and all my tools and the car sits in there. Anyone I went to high school with wouldn’t understand why I didn’t become a mechanic or a diesel fitter.”
Now Billett has developed a keen interest in four-wheel driving on the west coast of Tasmania. “It’s one of the wildest parts of Australia. And you can see things you wouldn’t normally see.”
But there’s more to it than the scenery. “You can get in a lot less trouble doing that than driving fast cars along the road,” he grins.
Check out all the winners of the 2014 National Print Awards at nationalprintawards.com.au
Award winner photo courtesy of the National Print Awards organising committee.