In the first part of this series we analyzed the aging, skilled labor market and the trend of older employees leaving the workforce, which can have a detrimental impact on industries, including the printing business, that depend on knowledge and expertise. “That kind of brain drain . . . could put a little more pressure on companies to figure out ways to hang on to older workers,” believes Michael Madowitz, director of macroeconomic policy at Equitable Growth.
We also suggested ways to recruit younger employees to the print sector. Enlist the help of outsiders, such as industry consultants, to work with state agencies and educational institutions. This strategy can be one smart move for printing companies trying to overcome a negative image of their industry in the minds of young people.
Printing companies should also consider the importance of older workers as described in this article from Bain & Company.
This month, we delve into the heated competition for high-quality employee talent: How best to hold on to staffers already on the payroll who are performing at high levels. After all, retaining employees (or luring back qualified people who’ve left for proverbial greener pastures) often is far less costly than hiring and training new people.
At Canon Solution America’s recent thINK Ahead annual event, production inkjet customers received advice about creating a work culture that people will not want to leave. One key aspect is “having a culture of recognition” that demonstrates each individual’s impact, explained Adriane Harrison, VP of human relations consulting at the PRINTING United Alliance trade association.
For example, when someone goes above and beyond to do an excellent job, “provide immediate positive feedback,” urged Harrison, “This should be specific—not just ‘great job’ but ‘your work on X helped save this project/meet a deadline/won over the customer/etc.’ Give praise publicly—post it on a bulletin board (real or on the company intranet) so others see that management recognizes the contributions of team members.”
Labor shortages and employee retention are top of mind on the signage side of the business, too. “Our association research reveals that finding and keeping qualified personnel is the number one pre-occupation of NPSOA print owners today,” reports Michael Makin, senior consultant at the National Print & Sign Owners Association. “In a post-pandemic world, the availability of a qualified and interested labor pool is challenging, to say the least. It will definitely be an issue discussed at the next owners’ conference.”
Be forewarned that hiring out of desperation is usually a risky proposition. Poor fits and bad attitudes can spread like cancerous wildfire throughout the organization. Once companies vet and hire the “right person”, there’s the training investment to consider. Retraining new people can be an expensive and extremely difficult endeavor, according to Lester Williams, a service manager who oversees five copier technicians at North Carolina equipment dealer Vision Office Systems. That’s why the 40-year digital print industry veteran makes it a high priority to keep his top people locked in and content.
The One That Got Away
Williams lost one of his key players a few years ago, “but we got him back after a couple of days,” he says with a smile—after the compensation pot was sweetened with a beefy pay raise. The competitive Charlotte, NC labor market forced the dealership to hike hourly wages by 18% across the board to survive.
For more financially motivated workers, paying above wage/salary scale never hurts; matching employees' individual retirement accounts (IRAs) is another popular fringe benefit. However, as PRINTING United Alliance’s Harrison points out: “If a company provides competitive wages and benefits, the thing that will set it apart and make people want to stay is creating a strong connection between managers and their teams, and between the team members.” Build relationships; jointly create company mission/value statements; and help team members recognize and understand the positive impact they have on the production, culture, profitability, and workplace environment.
Many of today’s younger employees seek benefits that go beyond their electronic pay stubs. Every added frill can help with retention. Some creative firms offer employees perks like free lunch on Fridays, food trucks, company iPhones, dart boards, foosball tables, video gaming and even beer on tap at the office. For Vision Office, providing technicians with company vehicles and gas cards has been a plus.
Get to know your team, Harrison advises. Learn their demographics and build benefit programs around their needs—whether it’s workday/shift schedules or considerations about remote/hybrid work arrangements. Creating career pathways can be a big draw. “The future workforce is Gen Z, who are very focused on career development,” she notes. “For Gen Z, the number one reason … to leave a job is the lack of career development.”
The manner in which you manage people matters, too. Of his supervisory style, Williams says: “I try to create a positive environment . . . and do not micro-manage. Most techs hate that! Good guys [techs] are scarce and difficult to find,” he cautions. “And even coming in with no ‘bad habits,’ trying to retrain new people is usually harder than keeping the ones you have!”
That said, if someone who possessed solid mechanical and electrical skills came his way, Williams would hire that person even if Vision didn’t need another tech, “Even if he had no copier background at all.”
Our final installment on the topic of staffing strategies in the print industry will focus on how companies can leverage automation in their operations.