As the recipient of the inaugural ‘Future star’ award, presented as part of the Digital Labels & Packaging Awards 2023, Hine’s Tom Gould wants to see more young people being given the opportunities he has had over the last decade.

What brought you into the print industry?

‘Having completed A-Levels in maths, geography and geology, I’d started studying Public Services at college. I wasn’t enjoying the course and it wasn’t something I really wanted to do. I was looking for a job when I came across apprenticeships as an option. Back then I saw it as a way of getting paid while also studying. I wasn’t sure if an apprenticeship was for me but, once I started and I was here, it felt like I’d arrived at the right place. I’d made the right choice.’

What did you know about print/manufacturing before starting at Hine?

‘Absolutely nothing, but that was 10 years ago. In preparing for my apprenticeship interview at Hine, I looked at the company website to learn about who Hine was and what it did. From there, I googled flexo printing and digital printing to get more of an insight into the different printing technologies. I remember seeing a picture of Bill Hine standing in front of the company’s brand-new digital press. It looked so impressive! I told myself ‘that’s where I want to be’.’

What did you do as an apprentice?

‘My apprenticeship was for two years and started in the warehouse. I then moved into the finishing department, running our very first A B Graphic (ABG) Digicon machine. It did varnishing, laminating and die-cutting. I also completed a Level 2 course in warehousing and storage. A tutor would regularly visit to check on my progress so, one day, I asked him what usually happens when an apprenticeship ends. I’d heard horror stories of apprentices being used as cheap temporary labour, but Hine wasn’t like that – I was offered the job I had already learned and enjoyed, and that made me feel secure in a company I really liked working with.

‘Later, I was given the opportunity to work in the customer service office and I held that role for about three years. It was something new to try and I was able to apply some of the knowledge I’d gained from working in the factory. I was glad for the opportunity and the training provided was great. I remember having customer service training with Lee Marlow from Astrum Business Transformation; I was invested in and took the opportunity to expand my skillset.

‘I’m now back in the factory and have been there for the last few years. It’s where I am most suited and feel at home. We have more finishing machines like the one I used to operate but they are more advanced now and they all do slightly different things.’

What has been your experience of working on the factory floor with different machines?

‘I’ve worked in the factory and further back in the process at job initiation, so I’ve had experience of both manufacturing and technical estimating. I really enjoyed the technical estimating because it involved creating solutions and problem solving. I was able to use my prior experience from the factory in another area of the company.

‘When I moved back into the factory to operate our ABG Digicon Series 3, I had a greater appreciation for the process as I understood how jobs are put together at the beginning. Now I have a hand in creating the end results. It’s great to see new designs coming through the factory, watching them evolve into their final stage as I add embellishments such as foils, high-build varnishes or textured varnishes.’

What would you like to learn more of in the future?

‘I’m broadening my knowledge in other areas of our production processes. From supporting the purchasing of materials and maintaining our stock levels, to production planning and scheduling. I want to see young people being given the opportunities I had: to join a fledging printing company and have a career with progression. I want to help train the next generation. It’ll be like I’m paying it back.’

Having been at Hine for almost a decade, what do you enjoy about working at such a company?

‘It’s a small family-owned business, so you don’t feel like you’re just a number. I have friends who work at big national companies and they don’t have that personable family feel. They don’t experience the culture I get to work in. Everybody is nice and supportive at Hine and I feel recognised – I think that’s the best thing.

‘I love that I have become multi-skilled. My primary role is label finishing but I’ve taken opportunities to train on our bigger ABG Digicon Series 3, which does all our premium label embellishments such as foil, multi-layer label conversion and high-build textured varnishes. I have also been included in the training for our Screen UV inkjet digital label press, so that’s something else I’ve been able to add into my skillset. It’s great to be surrounded by people who challenge me.’

What has been the biggest lesson you’ve learnt during your time at Hine?

‘Be open-minded. Look at change as an opportunity to grow. I wasn’t always great at taking constructive criticism. I’d feel defensive. I like to think I’ve matured enough to understand critique and feedback doesn’t come from a bad place, and it’s necessary if you want to be better.’

Tom Gould with his trophy

Tom Gould with his ‘Future star’ award

What advice would you offer to prospective apprentices?

‘Do it! You will get things wrong. You won’t be perfect first time. Just do your best, know you’re a work in progress, and persevere because you will improve with the right team support and the right mindset. I suppose my motto with most things is, ‘Have a go, then get better.’

‘Obviously, it’s not for everybody, but the same is said that university isn’t for everybody. People learn in different ways – I found the best fit for me. A decade ago, I could not have imagined I’d be where I am now. Doing an apprenticeship was the best start and I found the opportunities to succeed.

‘Print isn’t a dirty factory job – I think anybody who has a tech-savvy mind, gets their kicks from precision and seeing something come into being, would do very well in the digital printing industry.’

What activities and hobbies do you enjoy in your free time?

‘Apart from the occasional karaoke at the pub (singing Karma Chameleon), my biggest hobby is PC building. I’d always been fascinated by it and found it’s not as hard as I thought it would be. My last build had an Nvidia GeForce RTX2080 graphics card, with AMD Ryzen 1700X processor, Asus B350F motherboard, 32GB RAM at 3600 MHz and a 240mm Aio CPU cooler. It’s very nice.’

This Q&A was first published in issue 5 (August/September) 2023 of Digital Labels & Packaging, which you can read online hereregister here to receive future issues of the magazine