In an article last month we talked about the fast approaching crisis in staffing. For most people in our industry, this is more of a nuisance because most of us are struggling with the declining sales and profits in our industry. But I would argue that the inability to attract young people to our industry is the greatest issue in our industry. Why? Because if you don’t have staff it does not matter if the demand is growing or shrinking because your capacity will be zero.
I learned in a recent assignment that “feeder programs” or programs in vocational schools and high school printing programs are disappearing. 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. The result for the industry is an approaching shortage of skilled workers with the ability to work with these evolving and changing technologies.
Not to sound like a Star Trek episode but this issue crosses the space-time continuum. According to recent reports from 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. And on the other side of the world a report from a few years ago from Australia (PIAA -Printing Industries Association of Australia) found the exact same problem. According to the PIAA:
The printing industry ‘PRINT21 Action Agenda’ identified a shortage of people in the industry with skills that span the knowledge spectrum of the printing process, financial management, sales and marketing management, as well as information technology. PRINT21 concluded that for printers to be successful into the future, they needed to invest in their people to develop the skills that would enable the printer to put forward unique value propositions to customers that were more than just products, but represented unique business solutions to their customers. What is required is a change of focus to ‘value adding’, rather than commodity-based competition.
The PRINT21 study of printers and their customers clearly showed that printers need to significantly enhance their competencies in managing relationships with customers and suppliers. To do this, printers need to develop a sustainable source of appropriately educated and trained employees that:
- Understand printing technologies and processes
- Have an excellent appreciation of value chain management
- Have an excellent appreciation of the developing technologies that are driving the new direction for the industry, such as digital file management, data warehousing, digital asset management, content management and print on demand.
- Are trained in sales and marketing, particularly solution selling
- Are innovative and flexible
- Have strong team and leadership skills
- Have project management skills
- Are customer focused
Since writing that first article on this subject I have talked to a lot of people. The message I have heard is consistent. The problem does not seem to be ability but motivation.
It’s not that we don’t have the training materials or teachers, but vocational schools, high school and college and university programs are disappearing. While there are organizations such as GAERF with programs such as PrintED/SkillsUSA and manufacturers like Heidelberg and Xerox supporting education issues, all are facing an uphill battle – and while winning some battles, overall we are losing the war. The age old question becomes can we turn this around before it becomes overwhelming?