Belfast-headquartered digital printing firm Northside Graphics is reaping the rewards of an innovative new apprenticeship scheme, launched during the pandemic to offer entry-level opportunities for young talent seeking to gain skills in the printing industry.
The first apprentice recruited to the Northside Graphics Training Academy, 19-year-old Lee Bradley, was named ‘Print Media Apprentice of the Year’ at the recent 43rd Irish Print Awards in Dublin – attended by over 500 professionals from across the print and press sector. He has since been nominated for a second award, at the Belfast Met Skills & Apprenticeships Awards.
Established in 1988, Northside Graphics is Northern Ireland’s oldest and largest digital printing company and employs over 70 staff. The firm launched its specialist Training Academy in June 2021 following a period of sustained growth, despite challenges posed by the pandemic.
Commencing in June 2021, full-time apprenticeships were offered to candidates aged 16-24 in conjunction with Belfast Met, who deliver the training on Northside’s premises.
From Carrickfergus, Lee was the first apprentice to be appointed by the firm post-Covid, having been encouraged to apply for the Training Academy by his father. “My dad saw the apprenticeship advertised on a billboard in Belfast and encouraged me to go for it, since I had been studying Graphic Design at Northern Regional College and was interested in the printing industry,” he explained.
“Over the past nine months I have gained a fantastic insight into the industry and developed wide-ranging skills that I know will enable me to pursue a lifelong career in digital printing. I have particularly enjoyed gaining more knowledge and practical experience in the HP Indigo Digital Printing Process and hope this continues.”
The ‘Print Media Apprentice NI of the Year’ category at the Irish Print Awards was open to students undertaking any form of print-related qualification, from an in-house apprenticeship or degree. Lee was crowned winner in recognition of outstanding personal growth and his demonstration of aptitude for working within the print media industry.
“I was so shocked to win the award,” Lee continued, “but I was proud to pick it up on behalf of Northside, which is an incredible place to work. To be nominated for a second award now as well is amazing.
“I am grateful to the Northside team who, along with my tutor from Belfast Met, Ian Cairns, have done so much for me over the past few months to help me develop my softer skills and confidence alongside the more technical skills require.”
Northside Graphics Operations Director Richard Campbell said: “Lee exemplifies all that is good about our Training Academy – quickly demonstrating a flare and natural ability to develop the skills required to succeed in our industry, underpinned by his tremendous enthusiasm, ambition and hunger to learn.
“We now have six apprentices going through our innovative Training Academy, all of whom have brought so much to Northside and who, in turn, have been equipped with the core skills required to enjoy sustainable employment in our industry for many years to come.”
Delivered in partnership with Belfast Met, all successful candidates will gain GQA Levels 2, 3, and 4 in Printing over three years as part of the Training Academy.
Congratulating Lee on his award, Belfast Metropolitan College Course Tutor Ian Cairns said: “Lee’s commitment to learning, his capacity to work on his own initiative together with his ability to apply his print knowledge into good working practice is a great personal achievement and is testament to his hard work and dedication within Northside Graphics.”
Northside Graphics is now recruiting its second cohort of apprentices to the Training Academy, anticipating six candidates to be in place by September 2022. For more information, please email Richard Campbell at [email protected].