Catriona Mellows bestowed New Zealand Print Apprentice of the Year

June 27, 2023

Display Associates head graphic designer Catriona Mellows was named BJ Ball Papers Print Apprentice of the Year 2022 at Friday night's 30th annual Pride In Print Awards.

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

Humbled by the honour, she warmly thanked all parties.

“If you had told me six years ago when I started my job as a ‘lacky’ that I would be up on stage, I wouldn’t believe you – not only that, but I won an award!” she enthused.

“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.

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

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

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

Dorothy started Display Associates in 1975, hand-painting signs and eventually moved into screen printing. Nearly 50 years later, her son Blair runs the expanded business.

“I feel like it’s not just me who has won this award but all of us because everyone was too willing to help me. Every Friday at five pm we gather around 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, Catriona says she is excited to continue growing and expanding her career.

“I started as a general lacky and am now very proud to be the head graphic designer. I have the exciting opportunity to move from trainee to trainer as we have just hired a young girl out of high school.

“I hope she will follow in my footsteps and start her 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.

The award winning apprentice says she’s excited to be starting the Diploma in Print Management with the support of work-based training organisation Competenz Te Pūkenga.

“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 30-plus years, Display Associates manager Blair Symes says Catriona – 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,” says Blair.

“Cat’s positivity – and alternative sense of humour – is a real boost for our company.

“She is currently training a new design cadet and doing a great job. Sharing her apprenticeship experience with the other staff has inspired another staff member to enquire about taking one on. When any future potential apprenticeships candidates start, I will always reference how Cat completed hers.”

Congratulating Catriona, 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 judging and the apprentices talk in such technical and passionate detail about their jobs,” said Ruth.

Ruth 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 they continued evolving under Te Pūkenga.

Interested in an apprenticeship or investing in skills development? We can help you to get started.