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Display Associates head graphic designer Catriona Mellows was named BJ Ball Papers Print Apprentice of the Year at the 2023 Pride in Print Awards.

Apprentice of the Year: Catriona Mellows
Apprentice of the Year: Catriona Mellows

Catriona Mellows, who had previously been named the joint Digital Print Apprentice of the Year, received her award before an audience of over 500 at Auckland’s Cordis Hotel.

“Thank you not only for this amazing honour, but for the career, for letting me earn a wage while learning so I could buy my first home with my partner, for igniting that creative spark in me that has made me the person I am today,” Mellows said.

“Thank you to Display Associates for the huge risk you took with a 20-year-old whose only credentials where ‘she was good at art at high school’. Thank you so much, it has been incredible.”

Mellows also paid tribute to the Display Associates team, which she described as a “family”.

“My boss, Blair Symes, took me on board just on the word of his mother, Dorothy, who saw a creative spark in me.

Dorothy Symes originally started Display Associates back in 1975 hand-painting signs and eventually moved into screen print. Nearly 50 years later, her son Blair is now running the business and screen-print is only a fraction of what the company does.

“I feel like it’s not just me who has won this award but all of us, because everyone was only too willing to help me. Every Friday at 5pm we gather round the applicating table with a beer in hand and share ideas and, if we’re lucky, Dorothy will come down with cheese rolls.”

Looking ahead, Mellows is excited to be continuing to grow and expand in her career.

She is now the head graphic designer and says she has moved from trainee to trainer now that the company has hired a new recruit out of high school.

“I hope she will follow in my footsteps and start her own apprenticeship very soon. I would be honoured to be able to coach and teach her through this and give her the same chance and opportunities my supervisor once gave me.

“I am also very excited to be starting the Diploma in Print Management and I hope to gain more insight into how running a print business works. My absolute dream would be to have my own print business where I could focus on designing and creating my own brand.”

Having worked with a number of designers over the past three decades, Display Associates manager Blair Symes said Mellows – who is also his firm’s first employee to complete an apprenticeship – has impressed with a constant positivity and maturity above her years.

“The sign and display industry, with the time constraints involved at times, can be a fair bit of pressure for results but she applies the same passion for the design whether she is working with a one-man tradie wanting a new logo for his little business or dealing with the chief executive of a company wanting to rebrand,” Symes said.

“She is currently training a new design cadet and doing a great job. Sharing her experience of her apprenticeship with the other staff has inspired another staff member to enquire about taking one on.

Congratulating Mellows, PrintNZ chief executive Ruth Cobb emphasised that print remains a “craft”.

“I get reminded of that every time we do our Print Apprentice of the Year interviews, and they talk in such technical and passionate detail about their jobs,” said Cobbs.

Cobbs emphasised the need for print industry companies to commit to training, noting “we need to grow our own”, in response to labour and skills shortages.

She added that PrintNZ was also actively monitoring and adapting its approach to training requirements as those continued to evolve under government direction.

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