Part 1 of this article focuses on ways print service providers can attract a younger workforce by reinventing the medium’s ‘down and dirty,’ inky image. This is a 3 part series.
Hey Boomers and Gen X-ers, our workers are aging. U.S. manufacturers faced a major setback after losing some 1.5 million jobs at the onset of the global pandemic; since then, companies have been struggling to fill job vacancies. In Q1 2023, there were nearly 700,000 open manufacturing jobs, according to consulting firm Deloitte and the Manufacturing Institute. The National Association of Manufacturers reports that over 2 million manufacturing jobs could go unfilled by 2030.
Print firms are feeling the pain. A good portion of experienced print industry employees are nearing retirement age. Last year, more than one-quarter of the U.S. workforce was 55 years of age or older, up from 14% twenty years earlier. In 2020, for the first time in the history of the United States, individuals 65 years of age and older outnumbered those five years of age and younger, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.
The U.S. print sector, which today employs over 386,500 Americans, shows negative growth (of -2.6%) again this year, reports research firm IBISWorld, and is down 1.4% overall since 2018.
Comparing to Labor in Europe
We don’t have a healthy apprenticeship culture in the US. Fewer than 1% of workers in the United States were in any kind of formal apprenticeship in 2020, according to the Department of Labor. That number equates to roughly 285,000 people–compared to the 1.4 million apprentices in Germany.
In the United Kingdom, the number of skilled tradespeople working in the print sector fell by 73% between 2006 and 2021, PrintWeek has reported. Skilled workers–prepress technicians, printers, postpress workers and printing press assistant operators–fell from 112,300 in 2006 to just 30,500 in 2021, according to the UK’s Office for National Statistics.
Skilled Worker Shortage
“Not surprisingly, companies in the printing industry will continue to have difficulties in attracting and keeping talent in 2023,” Joe Marin, senior VP of member services at the PRINTING United Alliance, told Printing Impressions in Q1. “There are skills gaps, and people with industry experience and technical expertise are in increasingly high demand.”
Identifying performance gaps is essential to building toward a skills-centric marketplace. A LinkedIn survey revealed the skills needed to do a given job have changed by 25% in the past eight years. Interestingly, Deloitte Touche Tohmatsu may scrap internal job titles altogether.
Shiny Objects, Flexible Shifts, and Interns
Recruiting younger people to fill those roles has proven difficult among the so-called “green-button” generation, which has grown up with technology and is accustomed to instant gratification. So, how can print service providers (PSPs) compete with big-tech firms such as Amazon and Google to attract and keep the staffers they need?
PSPs striving to recruit Generation Z and Millennial employees should refrain from using “dirty” words and phrases, such as factory and printing plant, in job descriptions, advises Deborah Corn, founder of the Print Media Centr. To portray a high-tech atmosphere, many company owners and hiring managers need to reinvent their conservative image, “which can be limiting,” Corn explains.
Instead of acknowledging how the printed medium is evident all around them, “young people may think that printing companies kill trees or pollute the world with ‘junk mail.’ Let job candidates know that you have cool, electronic ‘toys’ to play with. After all, there’s a reason that Landa’s digital presses are intentionally designed to look like iPads.”
Once hired, giving their jobs “purpose” and empowering young employees are also crucial. “The worst thing supervisors can do is squash new ideas and fresh perspectives,” Corn cautions. When evaluating performance and criticizing constructively, tread lightly and accentuate the positives.
Offering flexible working shifts is another way to entice prospects. For example, some companies have gone to four 10-hour shifts. Boss Litho employs 40 people on two shifts at its 47,000-square-foot production facility. “In April we changed to a four-day work week on 10-hour shifts,” shares CEO Jean Paul Natal, who adds that his employees in California seem to enjoy longer weekends and having Fridays off.
More open-minded owners have dabbled in even shorter stints. “Flexible scheduling is really important to working parents, who may need to pick up their children from school at 3 p.m.,” Corn points out. To compete for employees from an HR perspective, get progressive when granting leaves of absence for maternity/paternity purposes, too, she urges, as well as offering medical insurance coverage to same-sex life partners.
Coordinating internship programs with local high schools and community colleges is an ideal strategy for cultivating future talent. “The key is to win over the school guidance counselors” who may perceive printing as a dying industry, notes Corn. “Invite them [career advisors] to open houses that show off your pristinely clean campus as a communications hub,” she adds. Redecorating and a fresh coat of paint may be in order, as “what they don’t want to see is some dingy, cinder-block office setting,” warns Corn.
Disabled workers and military veterans are a virtually untapped pool. “Why can’t a blind person or someone confined to a wheelchair work in your facility?” Corn asks.
In Part 2 , we will delve into how best to retain existing employees while employing automation as a competitive advantage.