Recruitment, Retention, and Pathways to Employment in the Printing Industry

Pressing News,

PIAG and its fellow regional printing associations have produced a new publication entitled “Recruitment, Retention, and Pathways to Employment in the Printing Industry,” detailing a variety of ways that member printing firms are meeting the challenge of a shrinking labor pool. From entry level employees to skilled prepress, press and finishing operators, the industry has been tested to find sufficient staff to fuel growth and replace retirements.

“Recruitment, Retention, and Pathways to Employment in the Printing Industry” looks at this problem from multiple angles and provides thought provoking commentary that should provide readers with new ideas to address their specific situations. Topics covered include apprenticeships, partnership programs, professional development, scholarships, and ideas that every printer can adopt. There is also a section called “Friends of the Future Workforce” that provides contact information for many of the resources mentioned in the article.

“Recruitment, Retention, and Pathways to Employment in the Printing Industry” was written by Patrick Henry, Managing Director of Liberty or Death Communications ( Pat has covered the printing and graphic arts industry as a journalist for nearly 40 years. He holds numerous awards for his industry support of professional education.

Read on for an excerpt from “Recruitment, Retention, and Pathways to Employment in the Printing Industry”. The full white paper can be downloaded here.

Recruitment, Retention, and Pathways to Employment in the Printing Industry

Workforce shrinkage in the printing industry is a fact, and the problems it causes are more complex than they may appear at first glance. But, printers are looking realistically at the situation and responding with practical solutions.

To get a clearer picture of the labor pressures that printers are facing, a coalition of 15 regional printing trade associations took part in a survey that had two aims: gauging the impact of unfilled jobs on the industry; and identifying ways in which companies can address the problems that gaps in employment cause them.

The October 2021 report, “Workforce Shortages: Its Effects and Effective Related Practices,” is one of a series of Printing Industry Performance & Insights (PIPI) reports sponsored by the coalition. It was prepared by Dr. Ralph Williams Jr. and Dr. Tim Moake of Middle Tennessee State University (MTSU), where both are professors of management in the Jones College of Business.

The findings were plain. Nearly 70% of survey respondents said that labor shortages had affected their businesses. At their companies, job turnover from all causes averaged 14%. More tellingly, employers indicated that on average, they were unable to fill 36% of their open positions for more than a year.

Williams served as the president of three printing companies before he entered academia. He says that during his career in the private sector, “we never had that kind of problem” with employment. Times clearly have changed since then. He says, for example, that a friend of his who operates a 15-employee company has experienced 50% turnover recently. “That’s unheard of for them,” Williams comments.

Experience Necessary
But not for other printers who are feeling the same pinch in their own ways. Thomas J. Majerski, president of BNP Empowered Printing in Buffalo, NY, oversees a heatset web offset operation that specializes in high-speed, long-run print manufacturing. In such a business, Majerski says, “the lack of printing experience is always a problem. One of the biggest challenges we have is trying to find people with that type of experience.”

“Where we’re finding the most difficulty is at that top end: actual pressmen, and men in charge. That’s really where we need qualified people, and it takes years to develop and get to that level.”

The pool of available talent is “certainly not what it used to be,” Majerski acknowledges. “As the number of printing plants decline, that’s always a huge challenge.” Finding people willing to work in a form of manufacturing like printing makes the challenge that much tougher.

“We don’t live in a society anymore where people really want to roll up their sleeves,” Majerski observes. “It’s a dirty environment. It’s a loud environment. The hours are long, and it’s physically laborious work.”

Asked if there are positions open at BNP now, Majerski answers, “Plenty. We’re desperate for people.”

In Tinton Falls, NJ, Bill Duerr is president of Hatteras, a three-shift commercial printing business that is expanding into packaging. He, too, is running into obstacles when it comes to filling openings for skilled jobs.

Shallow End of the Pool
“We’re not geographically close to our competition, so it’s not like there’s a talent pool that we can pull from,” Duerr notes. That means doubling down on “home grown training” for folding, gluing, die cutting, and related tasks. “Machine operators that have the skill to set up a complex job – that’s a tough position to fill right now, especially on second or third shifts. It’s really hard for us to find those people.”

Printers understand the competition they face for labor of all types, and they’ve seen that the traditional ways of recruiting people – classified advertising, commercial trade schools, poaching from other employers – either no longer exist or aren’t adequate to the present task. So, they are turning to more creative ways of closing their employment gaps and leveraging the talent they have. The full story of these efforts can be read here.

Participating affiliate organizations include:

  • Printing Industries Alliance
  • Graphic Arts Association
  • Graphic Media Alliance
  • Great Lakes Graphics Association
  • PIA MidAmerica
  • PIA of Southern California
  • PIA of the South
  • PIA San Diego
  • Print Media Association
  • Printing & Graphics Association MidAtlantic
  • Printing & Imaging Association of Georgia
  • Printing Industries of New England
  • Printing Industry Midwest
  • Printing Industry of the Carolinas
  • Visual Media Alliance