A Crisis in Graphic Arts Staffing

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?

Doc's been worried for a number of years that young people are not choosing the printing industry as a good destination for jobs. At the same time, the current workforce in the graphic arts is aging. Will there be a staffing gap anytime soon? According to my friend Howie Fenton over at The Digital Nirvana, the answer is a resounding "yes."

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 (National Association for Printing Leadership) 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.

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.