Getting to the peak of our career is everyone’s goal. But can we all get the opportunities, resources and the motivations to make this a reality? This article examines the role of postgraduate education in developing capacity for the printing industry by beaming light on postgraduate studies in information technology at the National Open University of Nigeria.
Postgraduate education and career advancement
Many people work not just for the money but also for the fulfilment that comes with making a success of their careers. So, aside from continual increase in their earning over the years, people also seek progress in their career; they want to get to heights commensurate to their years of experience and contributions to their organisations. And, as they progress, they require different types of knowledge and skills to take them up the ladder. According to management experts, people require different skill sets as they move up in their careers.
For instance, Robert L. Katz, a social and organisational psychologist, explains that people aiming for management roles must possess three areas of managerial skills: Technical skills, human skills and conceptual skills. Katz explains technical skills as knowledge of and the proficiency in activities entailing methods, processes and procedures.
It basically involves using tools, machines and devices. The human skill is explained to be the ability to work with people, to create an environment for teamwork. While conceptual skill is the ability to recognise significant elements in situations and understand the relationship between these elements. In addition to Katz’s three types of skills, there is a fourth – Design skills – defined as the “the ability to solve problems in ways that will benefit the enterprise”.1
Katz argues that people require a varying combination of these skills as they progress from lower management, through middle management, to top management level. In other words, technical skills are valued at the lower management level, while human skills, conceptual skills and design skills count more at the top management level. To move to the upper crust of their career, workers need to acquire the skills commensurate to the level they are aspiring to reach through training and human capacity development. Postgraduate education is one of the many means through which this is achieved.
Barriers to postgraduate printing education in Nigeria
Postgraduate education has been identified as one of the sure ways to stay on top of knowledge advancement and technological change. One vital feature of postgraduate training is specialization – which deepens learners’ knowledge in a particular area of study, focusing and directing their expertise in core areas of their organizations’ operations. Certainly, advance knowledge is a cardinal aspect of professionalism. In the fast-paced business world of which the printing industry in an integral part, the need for advance and highly specialized knowledge has become not only a necessity but a key strategy for survival in the stormy sea of competition. According to a report in the international edition of The Guardian, “Graduate students can gain new skills and competences that will give them the right equipment to re-enter the competitive arena with renewed confidence – provided they choose the right programme”.3
However, access to such type of postgraduate training for graduates of printing technology is not widely available in Nigeria. At present, the only specialized postgraduate programme for printing technology in Nigeria is the Post-HND (Professional) Printing Technology programme at Kaduna Polytechnic. While residents of Kaduna state and nearby states may avail themselves of this training opportunity, those in other parts of the country are clearly disadvantaged. Besides, the high-pressured workplace nature of the printing industry requires a study mode that allows printing workers to work and study at the same time.
The NOUN Offering and Advantage
There is a window of opportunity for HND graduates of printing technology to pursue postgraduate studies in information technology at the National Open University of Nigeria (NOUN). They can tap into this opportunity through a postgraduate diploma (PGD) in information technology. The admission requirements are; minimum of five credits in o’levels in mathematics, English language, physics, chemistry and any other relevant subject, and HND/Bsc in a wide range of disciplines, including printing technology. The PGD, on successful completion, offers an in-road into further studies at the master’s level, leading to the award of M.Sc. Information technology at the same university. The PGD information technology programme consists of the following modules;
First semester: The Good study guide (General study), foundation of information and communication technology , computer fundamentals, information technology and software development, Micro computing, introduction to internet, Application software design and multimedia, information system design and programmming (elective).
Second semester: multimedia technology, operating systems concept, computer programming, operations research, object-oriented technology (elective), computer networks, and research project.
At the master’s level, the modules available are; technical report writing, introduction to database management systems, network design and programming, advanced systems analysis and design, internet concepts and web design, and operating systems concepts and networking management. Others are; data communication and networks and research project. The master’s programme is designed to give students a broad technical understanding of current and emerging technologies in the industry, acquaint them with systems engineering, as well as give them a solid foundation in net-centric computer. Generally, the programme covers the core aspect of engineering pertaining to the use of computers in the collection, storage, and use of data, networking, database management and information security.
A unique feature of NOUN is the institution’s “work and learn” model which suits the busy production schedules of all categories of workers in Nigeria. Given that education is a basic right of everyone at all levels, irrespective of the circumstances they find themselves, the Federal Government-owned University runs an open distance learning (ODL) system that meets the needs of printing workers seeking to acquire higher education at both undergraduate and postgraduate levels. The ODL system is flexible, allowing learners to study what they want, when and where they want.
For the records, NOUN was established in 1983 by the Federal Government of Nigeria for the purpose of ensuring equity and equality of opportunities in education and provide a wider access to education for all and sundry in the country. In the words of the Vice-Chancellor of the institution, Professor Abdalla Adamu, “NOUN is fully recognised by the National University Commission. We have programmes that are accredited by NUC.”
The relevance of information technology in the printing industry
The use of computers and other information technologies has become a dominant feature in the contemporary media industry. There is no facet of print media production that has not been digitalised.
From prepress to post press, production planning and control, client service, marketing, to distribution and fulfillment, information technology is no doubt the heartbeat of the print production workflow. The emergence of CIP4 and the adoption of JDF are indicators of the impact of information and communication technology on the print and graphic arts industry.
The CIP4 is a not-for-profit organization in the graphic arts industry that started as CIP3 – International Cooperation for Integration of Prepress, Press, and Postpress. Now known as CIP4, the organization’ mission is to foster the adoption of process automation in the printing industry. One of the hallmark contributions of this body is the introduction of the Job Definition Format (JDF) which can be accessed at http://www.cip4.org/.
The JDF has become the standard in the graphic arts industry for unifying the prepress, press and postpress aspects of any printing job. It has become the means of bridging the communication gap between production services and Management Information Systems (MIS) in printing companies. In the words of CIP4,
JDF “provides the means to describe print jobs in terms of the products eventually to be created, as well as in terms of the processes needed to create those products. The format provides a mechanism to explicitly specify the controls needed by each process, which might be specific to the devices that will execute the processes.”5
The adoption of JDF, amongst other digital technology innovations adoptions, exemplifies, clearly, the relevance of information technology knowledge and skills in contemporary printing industry.
A Graduate Printer’s Experience
Momoh Fredrick Abah, a Kaduna-based printing technologist has had a taste of the pudding, so he can tell whether it is sweet or not. After completing his ND and HND in printing technology in 2010 and 2013 respectively, Abah took a shot at the PGD information technology programme at NOUN after his youth service.
On the relevance of the PGD information technology to printing technology, Abah noted that, “Information Technology is not just relevant to printing Technology but it plays core roles in the printing process. Both go together to achieve results and obviously make printing process simple, reliable, timely and accurate. Print media cannot run efficiently and effectively without the application of information technology because it helps to manage information or data needed to achieve desired prints. Information Technology helps to handle effectively graphic reproduction, data management, data formats, file/data transfer, colour matching and so on in printing industry. Therefore, running a PGD information technology programme is very important as it improves the knowledge on the application of the above mentioned tasks in printing process”.
Asked about the extent the courses he took at both the ND and HND levels in printing technology had prepared him for the PGD information technology programme, Abah responded thus; “My decision to run PGD information technology program came after having taken a course ‘general information technology’ during my National Diploma (ND) program in printing technology at Kaduna Polytechnic. The course revealed to me the modernity of printing, hence the desire to further on it. The decision was affirmed while I was running my Higher National Diploma (HND) in printing technology at Yaba College of Technology, Lagos. The affirmation came after taking some courses such as desktop publishing, colour management and others. The above mentioned courses at my ND and HND levels opened my eyes to realise that the knowledge of information technology is needed to stand the current and future challenges in the printing industry. I boldly went for PGD information technology because I already had the basic knowledge of it from my ND and HND in printing technology program. It will interest you to know that part of what I learnt during my first degree repeated or reflected in the PGD program”.
Abah acknowledged that the knowledge he gained from the PGD information technology programme has greatly enhanced his knowledge and practice of printing in such aspects like creating files, file management, data transfer among others. He remarked that this has motivated him to go further in studying IT in the context of printing by moving on to the masters degree programme in information technology. From his experience he has the following words of advice for printing technology graduates in Nigeria on the relevance of postgraduate training; “My advice for the printing technology graduates is that they should realise that we are in a competitive world and so there’s need to improve and add more value to what they already have in order to have an edge in the challenging market. Going for postgraduate program is an opportunity to make yourself stand out among your colleagues and will also improve your personal skills in the practice of printing and other related profession”.