Commentary & Analysis
The Digital Labor Pool: A Perfect Storm Ahead
This is the second in a series of columns that look at the state of the job market in digital printing.
By WhatTheyThink Staff
Published: May 18, 2006
This is the second in a series of columns that look at the state of the job market in digital printing. May 18, 2006 -- Things may be active in the digital job market now, but don't count on it staying that way. Arnie Kahn says this industry hasn't done such a good job of planning for its future, and there could be trouble on the horizon. Kahn is founder and owner of PrintLink (www.printlink.com), a staffing and recruiting firm specializing in print, pre-press, packaging, document management and e-media. "We are seeing fewer college graduates going into printing, and the vision to plan for the future is nonexistent. A perfect storm is coming," he declares. "Five years from now, the industry could be in real trouble, because if we don't train from within or entice new people into the business, who's going to fill the slots? Companies like PrintLink will be busy with requirements, but will we have the talent pool? It's an issue!" The crazy thing is, the jobs are there, and they are going to be around for a while. As the third largest manufacturing industry in the United States, the multi-billion dollar printing business offers significant long-term career opportunities. Nationally, the U.S. Department of Labor projects a continued 4.6 percent job growth rate through 2012 in printing and related services. The problem is attracting qualified people to fill the jobs. Mentoring for Success For long-term success in hiring, companies need inside training and mentoring, to compensate for the lack of new hires out of college. Kahn says "Most firms have a percentage of their staff who will face retirement in five years. If people inside are not mentoring their successors now, it's going to be tough to replace them. Where are they going to come from?" If people inside are not mentoring their successors now, it's going to be tough to replace them So much about the printing business must be learned on the job. Mentoring is needed to replace the people who are leaving, but many printers aren't thinking about it, because they themselves have visions of their own retirement, not the long-term legacy of their company. As a result, Kahn says printing could be another industry that moves offshore. "You'll develop files here and ship them out to print," he foresees. Another situation is occurring in what were once successor-type companies, the mom-and-pop printing businesses that today are more likely to be acquired than inherited. "In the past, owners might train their kids to take over, but the kids aren't going into the business anymore," says Kahn. When companies sell out, there's no company to pass on. Also, some parents urge their offspring not to go into the fiercely tough printing business. So many have struggled, and they aren't promoting that lifestyle to a younger generation." Not Sexy Enough Printing technology is moving to digital; software drives everything; web storefronts are common, but digital printing is still not a sexy industry to techie outsiders. "Printers have to push schools to better market programs to students who may already have the impression that printing is boring. However, if students knew more about what is involved, they might actually find it attractive. A lot of what students like about computer science, they can do in printing." It is imperative to reach out to the schools, he says, or the industry will be out of luck and out of hands. Not everyone is ignoring the signs. Océ has stepped up with a graphic arts curriculum that can help students learn skills and the market gain a labor pool. To address the growing demand for trained labor, Océ and curriculum developers, Chesnut & Associates, have responded with professionally developed training made available to educational institutions. The Océ Graphic Communications Curriculum Program (GCCP) is an innovative, hands-on program designed to help students learn the digital trade and gain high-demand skills that will put them on the cutting edge of the business. Printing could be another industry that moves offshore. You'll develop files here and ship them out to print. The GCCP, along with Océ printing technology and workflow software, have been selected for the new Worcester, Massachusetts Vocational High School, scheduled to open in September 2006. The state-of-the-art facility will serve 1,500 day students, plus an after-hours population of some 3,000 learners in over 100 classrooms, 24 learning centers, numerous shops, support areas, retail stores, restaurants, a fully operational bank, automotive repair and collision service areas, a health clinic, as well as meeting and tourism facilities. It's the first new vocational high school to be built in Massachusetts in over 25 years, and the $60 million, 400,000 square foot skills center will help fuel local business growth. "The Océ Graphic Communications Curriculum prepares students for the technology changes ahead and provides them with a promising career in the print industry. It's a win-win opportunity for educators, the printing industry, the community, and most importantly, the students," says Joyce Virnich, vice president of marketing for Océ Digital Document Systems. "The digital print market requires a skilled labor pool to meet market demands, while students need the education and training necessary to qualify them for this rewarding work."