Troy Ingram: Always Keep Learning
Troy Ingram has spent his entire career working for California school district in-plants. He started in 7th grade, as part of a program in Los Angeles that offered trade experience as electives, and discovered a love of print in the graphic arts program.
“It was love at first sight,” he laughs.
In the 10th grade, Ingram moved to Fontana, California, and joined a summer work experience program that included his school district’s in-plant as one of the options. He worked there all three years of his remaining education, then was offered a full-time position with the Fontana Unified School District once he graduated high school. He stayed there for 18 years, until a supervisor pointed out an opening at another district, which would allow him to advance his career.
“She said ‘there’s a management position, and you should try to apply for it,’” he recalls. “I didn’t think I would leave [Fontana]. I had been there forever. But then they called me for the interview, and then they wanted to hire me. I went back and forth, and decided to take the job.”
That was 15 years ago. Today, Ingram is the coordinator of Innovation and Creative Services at Chino Valley Unified School District in Chino, California, about 35 miles east of Los Angeles. His operation has seven employees, including Ingram, and while he came into the district as the in-plant manager, his role has expanded over the years, with responsibility for the media center, as well as the mail department, eventually coming under his control.
When he first arrived at Chino Valley Unified, Ingram notes, the in-plant was small and used older equipment, especially on the color side. One of his priorities early on was updating the presses. He brought in newer color machines, including Xerox Nuveras, and increased the number of black-and-white printers to include a Canon VarioPrint TITAN. He also added wide-format pinters — a Canon Colorado and Canon imagePROGRAF PRO 6100 — allowing the shop to go from a maximum print size of 24" wide to 60" wide today.
Another upgrade was the move to Rochester Software Associates’ WebCRD platform, which gave the in-plant a great foundation to continue working during COVID-19. Today, all jobs come in through WebCRD, and more than 60% of them are fully automated, allowing the operation to handle as many as 200 jobs a day with turnaround times of three days for 90% of its work.
Ingram has also added new services such as garment printing. He installed an Epson SureColor F2100 direct-to-garment printer a few years ago.
“After the pandemic started, interest in [garment printing] started to pick up,” he says. “They were looking for solutions to keep the student and organization’s morale up, and keep everyone positive about things.”
Some schools that offer college preparatory classes, for example, have created shirts with the teacher’s college affiliation, allowing the teacher to tie the individual classroom to a specific school.
“Then other programs also started requesting shirts,” he says. Right now, garment printing is “only about 5% of our work, but I see that growing. The more sites are hearing about it, the more they’re wanting us to do [shirts] for them too.”
Beyond shirts, Ingram notes that the bulk of his in-plant’s work is instructional materials and handbooks, as well as yearbooks for elementary schools.
He markets the in-plant by going to meetings with principals or visiting schools personally, where he encourages customers to contact the in-plant at the beginning of their projects, when he can guide them toward the best options. He keeps abreast of the types of applications that are gaining interest, and plans his future acquisitions accordingly.
“That’s why we added wide-format and garment printing,” he notes.
Looking back, Ingram says one of the biggest challenges in his career was taking that leap of faith: leaving a long-term job that he was happy at, and trusting that the next job would live up to the promise of advancement.
Also, coming into an established operation and making changes, he notes, wasn’t without a few bumps in the road.
“I am proud of my staff for making those changes with me,” he says. “I have a veteran staff, and the changes didn’t come easy, especially coming from someone new. But the technology they’ve picked up, and the skills they’ve acquired — I’m proud of them.”
He is also proud of how far the operation has come, noting that the in-plant wouldn’t be in as good shape today if he hadn’t made upgrading the printing equipment — especially on the color side — a priority from the start.
“We wouldn’t be as successful today if I hadn’t done that,” Ingram notes. “The biggest part of our support … was from bringing new services to the district. They really come to us more now.”
But Ingram isn’t one to rest. He notes that the only thing keeping him up at night is “trying to figure out what I’m going to do to keep everything pumping. I’m one of those people who is very creative and likes to explore different options. Things start getting stagnant, and I start looking at what’s next.”
The next step for Ingram is to explore combining all the operations now under his purview into a single location.
“I’m hoping to take the print shop, media center, and mail room all into one building,” he says. “Right now we’re in two, but having the in-plant in with media and mail all in one central location would be ideal.”
There is a lot of support for the project, which would involve renovating a currently portioned space into one larger one. He’s optimistic the move will take shape in the next few years.
“If I present it the right way, I’m sure they’ll back me,” he says.
Other plans, especially post-COVID, include taking on more digital asset management for the district. Right now, Ingram notes, the in-plant already does some of that, for example with forms and documents that have been converted to web forms for easier use, but he is hoping to take on more of that work.
“We want to be one stop for all creative, whether it’s print or digital,” he says.
Ingram is also looking more closely at production inkjet technology, but he’s “still not quite convinced it’s viable for our operation. But I’m keeping an eye on it to see where it’s going and how it develops.”
Personally, Ingram notes that he has been fortunate as a minority not to have experienced any discrimination in his career.
“I just haven’t seen that as a factor for me,” he says. “I don’t know if I’m just naïve or I just enjoy what I’m doing so I don’t look for it. But my career has been going smoothly, with no hiccups or anything of that nature.”
One thing he did struggle with, however, was making the transition from a print shop operator to a manager. His advice to anyone looking to advance in the print industry is to learn as much as possible in school.
“Get that education behind you,” he stresses. “Whether that’s trade school, or college, get a degree in business management so you know the business piece of it. That’s what I had to go through. I came in as a kid and moved up through determination and hard work, but at the management level it became more difficult not having that business piece.”
He ended up going back to school, taking business courses at a local college, and eventually earning his Bachelor of Fine Arts from California State Polytechnic University in 2010 so he could better manage his in-plant.
“Print was my choice after high school, and I love working for a K-12 institution,” he says.
His other dream was to become a pilot in the Air Force, he adds, but on balance he is very content with where his path in life has taken him.
That path includes his wife of 25 years, Giavanna, and three adult sons. While none of them followed him into print, they are all into the arts, he says, something he also pursues in his off time.
“I love to draw and paint, and I love to sew. I make pillows, and crochet scarves and hats. I also like quilting blankets,” he says, adding with a laugh: “I love crafting and the arts, but my wife is going to put me out because I collect so much stuff.
“I think that’s my upbringing, to try different things and love the process of learning,” he concludes. And that philosophy is one of the reasons his in-plant has continued to grow and evolve, always adapting to the needs of the district. Similarly, Ingram is always looking forward to how he can continue to serve his organization into the future.
Related story: California In-plant Adds Efficiency With Web-to-Print