Young blood: YPN strengthens the sign industry for the next generation

Photo courtesy  Young Professionals Network (YPN)

Photo courtesy Young Professionals Network (YPN)

The Young Professionals Network (YPN) was created by the Sign Association of Canada’s (SAC-ACE’s) board of directors in March 2016 as a response to the recognized challenge of attracting the next generation and retaining their talent within the sign industry.

The initial iteration of the group consisted of monthly conference calls co-ordinated and lead by the SAC-ACE team (along with direction from the board of directors) with predetermined topics, ranging from industry news and events to challenges faced by members, and interesting projects they were working on.

In 2018, five key members of the YPN were nominated and accepted to the International Sign Association’s Elite program (recognizing young professionals who represent the next generation of industry leaders). Upon completion of this program, and recognizing how successful a similar group can be, the YPN restructured and re-launched at the ‘Canada night’ during the International Sign Association (ISA) Expo in Vegas in April 2019. The group’s new vision and contagious enthusiasm has already seen positive change. For instance, the YPN has since formed a board of directors to represent members across the country, it is also in the process of recruiting additional members, organizing events across the country, and planning for the future.

A solid foundation

Currently, there are eight members on the board of directors and 16 additional young professionals actively participating. The team of board members volunteers their time and effort to work together on education, events, marketing, and recruitment along with other initiatives directed toward those new to the industry.

It has been a big year for the YPN in terms of the group’s development and hosting multiple networking events in Ontario and Alberta. These events encourage the younger generation of sign professionals to come out and meet with others in the industry.

“YPN allows us to grow as individuals outside our respected company walls; it gives us the ability to connect with other like-minded, hardworking people in our industry from coast-to-coast. Being a member gives you access to exclusive events, educational programs, and networking opportunities,” says Matthew Lavery of Spectra Signs in Vaughan, Ont., and president of the SAC-ACE YPN. “Further, I feel YPN is beneficial to each member because it asserts someone as a leader and gives them the chance to be creative while, at the same time, opening doors to making connections in and around the industry, which in turn can expand each company’s outreach.

“I am excited about the future, the team, and our vision. There is nothing more inspiring than a group of highly motivated and skilled young professionals who put their minds together to accomplish one goal—leading the future of the sign industry by creating a network of the best young professionals Canada has to offer.”

The sweet smell of success

There are many reasons why the current YPN members have joined this group and continue to prosper in the sign industry.

“I am extremely passionate about this work. Having the opportunity to network, bounce ideas, and share experiences with other colleagues in the same age bracket is invaluable,” says Lee Murphy of Access Signs Inc., in Longueuil, Que., and co-vice-president of the SAC-ACE YPN. “The cornerstone of my engagement and passion comes from my personal background.
I grew up less fortunate, and the sign industry has given me a way to not only achieve a level of success without necessarily obtaining a specialized diploma, but to also be able to provide for my family.

“The level of awareness of the sign industry as a career option early in one’s educational path (e.g. secondary school, college, etc.) is non-existent. Through the YPN, we’re attempting to break that barrier and in turn, increase employment opportunities and provide quality candidates to this trade.”

Murphy’s counterpart as vice-president on the YPN board is Taylor Blanchett-O’Donnell, the corporate services manager of Blanchett Neon in Edmonton, Alta. As one of the founding members of the YPN, she is very involved in the group’s dynamic.

“The YPN provides me with what feels like my own personal support team,” she says. “The group has so many amazing resources I can reach out to at any time and know that I will get answers, suggestions, and recommendations based on actual experience in the sign industry.”

Cream of the crop

There are a few members of the group who have achieved the ISA Elite experience, which takes place annually at the ISA Sign Expo. After going through a rigorous application process and judging panel, young professionals employed by a company, which is an ISA member, are chosen to attend the expo as well as a leadership conference hosted by the association. However, in years past, there have been a very limited number of Canadians who have been accepted into these classes—generally four a year out of approximately 30 to 34 people.

Lavery, Blanchett-O’Donnell, Dario Giansante of Global Lux in Boucherville, Que., and Emily Butko Wallis of Signature Signs in Niagara Falls, Ont., were part of the ISA Elite class of 2018, while Murphy and Krista Edwards of Media Resources International in Oakville, Ont., were part of this year’s class. Six of the eight YPN board of directors share the ISA Elite distinction.

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