A Crisis in Staffing is Fast Approaching

By | November 24, 2010

Everyone knows that the printing industry is changing and evolving from an industry that was dominated by traditional printed products to more print related services and digital technologies. Well not everyone knows this, because if young people were aware of the evolving importance of digital technology then maybe they would be more interested in pursuing careers in the graphic arts. But they are not and we are about to experience a crisis in staffing. The question is why and what can we do about it?

Part of the problem is that the projections from the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) says that printing jobs will decline by 8% and prepress jobs by 18%, which is misleading. According to the Canadian Printing Industries Sector Council (CPISC) nearly half of all employees are approaching retirement age, with 30 percent of all industry employees between the ages of 46 to 54 years and 19 percent older than 55 years of age. Therefore, even if the number of jobs declines if half the existing staff retires there will be huge opportunities or gaps in staffing.

This is compounded by a lack of on the job training. In NAPL’s Organizational Development & Compensation Study only 13% of companies spent more than 1% of their annual revenue on training. How much training do leading companies offer staff? Some experts have argued for figures as high as 5–6%, but the available statistics show that training across all industries has averaged between 2 and 2.5% of payroll for most of this decade, with leading companies spending as much as 3%.

But the greatest issue is that the graphic arts industry is simply not attracting young people. Graphic arts and printing programs in high schools and vocational schools are disappearing. I am working on an assignment for a university with a printing program and they tell me that there used to be 15 local high schools and vocational schools driving students into their program – now there are only 5.

The result for the industry is an approaching shortage of skilled workers with the ability to work with these evolving and changing technologies. The Skills and Technology Roadmap report released by CPISC found that the industry needs new workers that are able to operate complex print machinery and also those who can understand and leverage the information and digital technologies.

For most high school counselors and students the impression of a career in this industry conjures up images of dirty, low paying jobs with no growth opportunities. As staff approach retirement, this is going to become an overwhelming problem. Clearly there are no quick fixes, but what do you think can be done to address the crisis in staffing?

Howard Fenton is a Senior Consultant at NAPL. Howie advises commercial printers, in-plants, and manufacturers on workflow management, operations, digital services, and customer research.

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2 thoughts on “A Crisis in Staffing is Fast Approaching

  1. Clay Forsberg

    Very good post. However, I believe the staffing issues in the printing industry are a refection of the industry itself. If the industry continues to hang on to this old world craftsman mentality, there’s nothing it can do to attract new talent. Any problems it has were it’s own doing over last ten years.

    As an electronic prepress recruiter. I saw wages either stall or in some cases decline with the demise of the unions in the industry. Many employers this as an opportunity to cut labor costs since revenues were being hit. It has come back and bit the industry as a whole.

    Pay for talent, and not just money – and you will attract talent. Make your work environment fun and you’ll get the people you need. Generation Y is not just about money … and an employer can use that to its advantage. Adopt new technology. These kids have grown up on technology, so a printing press is not going to attract them. But a company that acts like a true communications delivery provider with online and electronic offerings in addition to print will. They want to know the company they are “hitching their wagon to” is going somewhere they want to go.

    Don’t just view training as a one way street. You may know printing, but the young talent you hire know a lot about your true market – your clients’ customers. Listen to them, as for their input and use it.

    Those companies that embrace change will be the ones that not only survive but prosper. Those that don’t, well … I wouldn’t want to work for them either.

  2. Clint Bolte

    Frank Romano posted a video on WTT recently that projected 80,000 commercial design graduates with job opportunities for only a quarter of that. The imbalance was created by colleges who realized that they could hire inexpensive professors to teach this specialty and ample supple of students existed who wanted to take these courses. The schools were not necessarily concerned about the demographics of jobs.

    While these students will not have much exposure to printing, they will be sensitive to digital workflows. Since the printing industry has overwhelmingly depended upon OJT education anyway, this cadre of potential new employees will be welcome.

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