A print production planner controls, organises and monitors the flow of printed materials in a printing company.

They check schedules, confirm product specifications, arrange adjustments, oversee the work of staff in the department and monitor the quality of the product, ensuring deadlines are met.

Print production planners liaise with other production departments and customer account managers at local, national and international levels according to the scale of the work in hand.

Responsibilities and job titles will vary from employer to employer; a print production planner may also be referred to as a print manager, print supervisor, production press operations manager or production planning co-coordinator.

Responsibilities

In large companies, production planners work in various stages of the print production cycle:

  • administration - computerised management system used to generate specifications for the product order;
  • origination - where artwork and digital images are designed;
  • reprographic - where printing plates are produced;
  • print machine rooms/floors - where printing presses operate;
  • bindery - where products are bound and finished;
  • dispatch - where products are packaged and distributed.

In smaller companies, production planners may take responsibility for several functions across a range of departments. Their tasks may involve:

  • checking the accuracy and viability of the product specification;
  • adapting computer systems to meet the requirements of the work;
  • allocating, distributing and checking work with available staff;
  • monitoring and maintaining the quality of the order;
  • improving processes and cost-efficiency;
  • managing production staff and trainees;
  • liaising with customer account managers to discuss setbacks in time or processes;
  • ensuring collaboration between different staff in different departments;
  • keeping contact with customers to ensure specifications are carried out;
  • complying with health and safety standards and workplace legislation;
  • recommending changes and improvements.

Salary

  • Starting salaries range between £20,000 and 25,000.
  • Salaries for senior print production positions can reach £30,000 to £40,000, with the potential to rise to £55,000 with significant experience.

Salaries vary depending on the company and range of responsibilities.

Income figures are intended as a guide only.

Working hours

Working hours vary. Large companies may operate a 24-hour, seven days a week production cycle with work shifts, including early starts, late finishes, weekends and public holidays. Smaller firms may run a standard working day for some employees.

What to expect

  • Technological advances have sped up print processes in all stages of production. One effect of this has been to increase customer expectations in terms of shorter deadlines. Planners can therefore expect to work under pressure to meet continual deadlines and must be prepared to work extra hours from time to time to ensure orders are efficiently processed.
  • Planners normally work from an office with standard equipment and access to computers.
  • Planners can spend time in production areas.
  • When working on or near to machinery, planners must wear appropriate safety gear and observe health and safety regulations.
  • General printing firms offer the most opportunities.
  • Jobs are available in most areas of the UK.
  • Planners are not normally required to travel, although, for example, in origination departments they make occasional visits to local customers.

Qualifications

Although this area of work is open to all graduates and diploma students, a degree or HND in the following subjects may increase your chances:

  • business studies;
  • graphic communications;
  • print media management;
  • print production/digital print production;
  • printing management.

Relevant degree and HND courses are available as follows:

Degree and HND courses may cover different skills areas, so check the course content to make sure it is relevant to the area of printing you want to work in. Courses may cover any of the following skills areas:

  • pre-press;
  • machine printing;
  • finishing;
  • sheet-fed printing press control;
  • ICT;
  • total quality management;
  • digital pre-press;
  • publishing;
  • publishing production;
  • desktop publishing;
  • publication production;
  • print buying;
  • production management;
  • printing processes;
  • print production.

Entry without a degree or HND is common and many employers are willing to provide training at work, through an apprenticeship scheme or on day-release training. Related qualifications in art, design, communications and information technology will be helpful.

Postgraduate and professional courses are available.

In addition to subject knowledge, production planners are required to develop a variety of other skills and personal qualities.

Skills

You will need:

  • good organisational skills and the ability to prioritise work, set targets and make decisions;
  • the ability to work accurately and methodically under pressure;
  • IT knowledge;
  • initiative, with problem-solving skills;
  • numerical and verbal reasoning;
  • a high level of communication abilities, as the production planner is often the link between the shop floor and management;
  • appreciation of customer service;
  • tact and the ability to persuade and negotiate.

Employers

The UK's print sector is the world's fifth largest producer of printed products, according to The British Printing Industries Federation (BPIF). With a turnover of approximately £14 billion, it includes 10,000 companies, employing around 130,000 people.

You can find work in the print industry in almost all areas of the UK; the highest concentration of companies is in London and the South East, but there are also large numbers of opportunities in the North West, the East Midlands and Yorkshire and Humberside.

The largest sector in the industry is advertising literature, event programmes, etc (37%), followed by newspapers, magazines and books (24%).

There are also companies that specialise in security printing (cheques, tickets and secure documents), and in packaging and labels.

It is now common for printing companies to deliver integrated marketing solutions to their clients by combining print and electronic media.

Employers include:

  • high street print shops and small general jobbing printers who provide origination, printing and finishing services, mostly for short-run, fast turn-around printed products, such as letterheads, flyers and business cards;
  • larger companies offering facilities capable of producing a greater range of printed material, for example fine art printing, posters, brochures, catalogues and periodicals;
  • specialist printers in screen-printing or printing on plastic, metal and other non-paper-based materials;
  • large printing companies specialising in paperback and hardback book production;
  • high volume web-offset printers, such as those producing newsprint and full-colour glossy magazines.

Other employers include advertising agencies, which hire production planners to plan the progress of clients' work, gather specification information, estimate costs of the work and act as the link between the agency and the printing company.

At all levels, the industry uses sophisticated technology and computerised production management systems.

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Professional development

Short, subject-based courses are available at a range of centres throughout the country. These are available in full-time, part-time and distance learning courses.

Training is, however, often delivered in the workplace. There are options for day release and attendance at external courses for relevant qualifications.

A range of training options and relevant courses, (in all areas of the printing industry), are detailed on The British Printing Industries Federation (BPIF) website. These include:

  • the BPIF Graduate Management Programme for professionals in print and media, which provides a mixture of training, development and networking opportunities;
  • NVQ diplomas and certificates in management, team leading, and digital print production.

Career prospects

During a career as a production planner, you may experience a range of planning work in the departments of administration, origination, reprographics, print, bindery and dispatch. The role provides an excellent grounding for supervisory and management careers in all parts of the industry.

After gaining experience, some planners specialise in one of the separate areas of production. This may be in estimating work or, with further training, account management, customer relations, sales or buying.

Promotion is normally to production manager, with responsibility for the long-term and day-to-day production planning and control of workflow across all departments.

You would ultimately aim to advance to works or general manager.

Larger organisations generally offer more opportunities for promotion to supervisory and management positions and often enable you to specialise in a particular role.

However, smaller, often family-owned micro businesses sometimes offer greater responsibility at an earlier stage in your career and allow you the chance to gain hands-on printing skills and experience in a range of specialist areas.

Print production managers can join The British Printing Industries Federation (BPIF), choosing from a three-tiered membership. Benefits of membership include advice about industry specific health and safety risks, HR support and legal guidance.