Designers usually get all the glory in the graphic design industry. Much like on an MLB team, people focus on the players and sometimes don't think about the trainers that got them ready to go out on the field.
What does print production design mean? Meticulously checking files for accuracy, proper layer order, color correctness, general file setup and proofing. The role of the production designer as it pertains to printed pieces is to keep projects on time, correct and efficient.
When a art file is complete and ready for production, the art is uploaded to a print facility. In a couple days to a couple weeks the printer will provide the agency or firm with printed proofs for review. If the proofs are approved, production begins! However, what happens if the art contains a spelling error? What if the file contains more spot colors than the spec sheet quoted? What happens if the dieline is on the wrong layer, or is just plain incorrect? Production is halted. The art file must be edited by the design team back at the agency and sent back to the printer, the whole process has to start over. This takes time and we all know what time equals. The production designer works to minimize if not eliminate this from happening.
This saves companies money and insures manufacturing dates will be met on time.
So, while production designers may not be the main key role in the design process, they are definitely needed. As a designer myself, I think it is critical to your design education to be well rounded and understand all aspects of your craft from conception to production. Plus, you get to approve proofs, troubleshoot color with the printer, see finalized products and even go on press checks.