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Attracting the New Industry Workforce: Do We Know How to Do It?

There's a new poster that hopes to attract students to the printing workplace. Dr. Joe wonders if it can. He's got some ideas. Is getting involved in events a real business opportunity? There are so many touchpoints in the event process that there are numerous opportunities to help your clients and build your business

By Dr. Joe Webb
Published: October 26, 2015

Do We Really Know How to Attract a New (and Renewing) Industry Workforce?

This week I receives a Google News Alert about the release of a new poster from the Print and Graphics Scholarship Foundation (PGSF). It was designed to capture the interest of high school and community college students and kindle an interest in our industry. I don't know if it does, but it made me think about the relationship we have with the future workforce, and how our industry competes for the interests of that workforce, and how their skills and self-interest match with our industry's future.

While I believe that there are important issues with the poster, I would direct readers to the PGSF career guide as the superior document. The poster tries way to hard and ends up talking in our language (with some incorrect punctuation) and in business jargon rather than speaking to students in their language at their level and especially with some emotional interest.

My relationship with our industry's educational institutions has never been… ummm… what can I call it… let's say “mutually enthusiastic.” One of the reasons that I did not seek permanent academic employment after my doctoral work was my dislike of bureaucracies. Consulting made more sense for me. I do know the heroic work of so many of our industry's teachers and how many of them rise above the bureaucratic frustrations and challenges better that I could or would, and how they change lives of so many students for the better.

In terms of our industry approach to attracting graduating students, it's often been a road of good intentions that are unmet. Many businesses seek students to fill defined available positions rather than seeking talented young people with the innate desire for professional careers. These people would be the catalysts for change in print businesses of all sizes.

Looking for young workers when there is a specific task job means that there will always be an experience mismatch, and selection is more likely to be based on availability than being sure it's the right person. In another situation a student confided in me “The college lied to me. I'm at the top of my class. They told me there would be jobs. There aren't.” I know this can happen, but I also know that effective placement of students occurs because of faculty and staff actively creating internship opportunities. They're critical for an industry that often puts off its assessment of staffing needs. (Do you know the names of the faculty in your area who can look out for promising candidates?)

I had a discussion with a leader at one of our industry's prominent colleges about our industry's lack of younger people in key positions. The age of our workers (and others we interact with) is important to detecting what is happening in the marketplace. Our industry's inability to recognize, understand, and put into long-range context, the wave of digital media of this century's first decade, can be somewhat attributed to the lack of trusted young managers in our companies.

Our difficulties in promoting print in the digital media age was hampered as well. At industry meetings I now generate quite a chuckle when people look at me and I tell them “you can't send old grey-haired bald guys out into the marketplace and tell prospects that print is a new and lively medium.” I've become more and more aware of this problem as I participate in our local chapter of the American Marketing Association here in the Raleigh, NC area. It just received the Chapter of the Year award from the AMA. The attendees are middle managers for the most part, most in their thirties. They have budget responsibilities (which means they have ROI responsibilities). The sighting of a printer among all of these marketing people (between 150 and 250 at each monthly event) was so odd that I wrote about it earlier this year. I have been going to meetings for nearly three years, and have heard the word “print” uttered from the stage by a media speaker three times.

What students do we need? Look first at the nature of media and what is growing in our industry. We need more people than every with computer backgrounds, especially data base management in the context of media creation and development. We need marketers. We need people with analytical capabilities. Can we afford them? Can we afford not to?

Don't rely on posters. Make a local effort to know graphic arts and digital media faculty and staff. Don't just look at public schools, look at technical schools. Find ways to use interns in important situations. A large vendor I know uses interns as key players in their social media initiative. They understand social media, and it's a great way for them to start learning about the business. It's also a growing area (wages are growing in ad agencies and public relations.

If they're graphic designers and other media developers, give them space. Don't charge them. Let them use an office as a co-working space during winter and summer break. Get them into the flow of the office and a sense of what it's like to be in an environment that requires cooperation, planning, proactive thinking, and the kinds of situations that they will not encounter in their classes.

Look for young workers who have a spark of entrepreneurship that needs some cultivation and direction. Have them volunteer for local organizations on your company's behalf. Don't wait.

We have seen significant changes in the printing business and I believe that more are coming. A key to our survival will be how well we attract and engage the new workforce.

Does Your Print and Marketing Services Business Manage Events? Touchpoints Mean Dollars for Clients and Print Businesses

An article in Advertising Age about events and ROI got my attention, recently. These are five aspects to the process, and many of these apply to trade shows and Chamber of Commerce showcases, and most any kind of event you can think of:

  1. Understand that events aren't just about who is in the room: “events present at least 10 to 15 opportunities to connect with your audience before and after the event: The save-the-date; the invitation; the reminder email; the event itself; the follow-up email; the social interactions; the owned and earned media. Each stage in the event lifecycle is an opportunity to pique someone's interest in your brand. Make sure you have a targeted strategy for each.”
  2. Think cross-departmentally: What this means is that going to an event for one reason may advance the goal of another function. Many job-seekers, for example, will go to product and other events hoping to meet the right people or to research companies they want to work for. Think of every event as a whole-company event.
  3. Don't let your communications team operate on an island: “The guest list… is the responsibility of everyone at the company.” Create incentives to identify and recruit the right people, even if you have never had a personal contact prior. Reluctant prospects are often more comfortable at an event than a one-on-one meeting that might have a greater obligation or make it hard to say that they are not interested. Events are more comfortable for people who prefer to be in more casual situations and gather their information in the background.
  4. Establish your event CPA: No that's not Certified Public Accountant, it's Cost Per Acquisition. Events tend to have much lower costs per contact than direct sales. Businesses can often get more than they expect by asking this question suggested in the article. “How can I create an unmissable event where every single guest is dying to invite a plus-one?” Encourage attendees to bring along others who have the same interests and to talk about the event in their social media activities. Discovering new prospects can cost significant money. Having your known and qualified prospects introduce you to others just like them can multiply your returns in the right circumstances.
  5. Use events to open doors: Holding an interesting event can get people who have been ignoring your e-mails or cold calls into your business sphere. The article says “...it has to be something they want to do.” You know your customers, but you have to know your prospects as well. There's no excuse not to learn about them by searching them out on Google, LinkedIn, Facebook, and many other places. The right events and the right topics can draw people whom you've had problems attracting in the past.

There are other aspects to this as well, not mentioned in the article. Follow-up calls to non-attendees can be a great source of information. In the past, sales people would do these to keep high pressure sales pressure on. That's always been a turnoff. Do something different.

If the speaker at the event had a book, bring the non-attendee an autographed book from the event (don't mail it). Include a card that tells them how they can get materials from the meeting. Are the slides of the speaker on Slideshare? Is there a podcast? Is there a YouTube video?

Finally… There are printers looking to change their business. Managing events can be a rewarding specialty. The business used to be printing the handouts and registration materials, and the notepads, along with product brochures and reselling some imprinted pens. One time events are not one time. Social media has changed that. They are content creation, media, and content management opportunities. The many touch opportunities provide a way to become deeply involved with your clients in logistics and other media. Are you exploring those possibilities with them? Can you create a package of services that you can use with many clients?

Dr. Joe Webb is one of the graphic arts industry's best-known consultants, forecasters, and commentators. He is the director of WhatTheyThink.com's Economics and Research Center.

What do you think? Please send feedback to Dr. Joe by emailing him at drjoe@whattheythink.com.

Visit the WhatTheyThink Economics and Research Center



By Gina Danner on Oct 26, 2015

The poster is sad. A poster should be designed to engage and create interest then drive to a website for more engagement. This poster tries to engage, sell, and close the student. It would take them way to long to read all the text that is on that poster and they won't do it.

We have to make print sexy... Print changes the world. It is the original content marketing... Print drives commerce and creates excitement. Imagine a poster with two images -- one is a plain brown box and the other is the packaging that a set of Beats Headphones (or an iPhone) comes in. Then drive them to a video that shows how that awesome packaging was created and tells them more about the industry.

Print is sexy. Print delivers value. Print makes people money. We as an industry have to start BELIEVING these key elements.

No wonder our industry is aging out. We are marketing to ourselves and not to the future.


By Joe Webb on Oct 28, 2015

Thanks for the comments, Gina. And part of the power of the poster you describe could be as simple as a QR code that goes to videos (of young people) involved in the printing industry, or examples of how creative ideas are implemented by equally creative production. The way we present ourselves can be disheartening even to those inside the business. I had several interesting contacts after the column that I hope lead to some positive initiatives. Stay tuned...


By John Berthelsen on Oct 29, 2015

Joe-Thanks for bringing more attention to this important matter. The negative view might be that the poster isn't perfect and could be made better. I have no argument with that and we will do better the next time up. The positive view is that it is a huge improvement (and 50% reduction in copy) from the previous version. And, that we are actually doing something to promote the industry as opposed to simply talking about it.

We feel that it is important to provide local print providers with tools that they can utilize in their communities to promote careers and get young people thinking about going into the field. They need to have something to hand out when they give a tour or go to talk at a school or career day event. (Something we hope everyone is doing!) That is why we have the Career Guide and the Career Poster available for them.

Bottom line, we all need to work together to promote our industry and be positive. So let's find ways to do that - work together. And not shoot arrows at each other to find fault with whatever efforts ARE being made. I look forward to working with you to promote positive PR for the graphic arts community.


By Joe Webb on Oct 29, 2015


Adding to our recent interaction outside of these pages, I have lined up a resource for us to do so.

To others who are reading this, please contact me privately as we could use some really positive case studies, no matter how brief, to include in the project that Mr B and I hope to collaborate on. I will share whatever I get with him.

Stay tuned...


By Joseph Schember on Oct 29, 2015

Joe - thanks for bringing some attention to this important initiative for our industry. I was surprised regarding the specific negative comments around the poster itself. Could the design be improved? Yes. Could the poster have less copy? Yes. I would even question whether or not a poster is the most effective medium to connect with students. Constructive criticism would positively impact this project going forward. I had to chuckle at the irony in the comment around incorrect punctuation when this very article has a typo in the 4th word of the first sentence.

I would also like to point out that PGSF is a non-for-profit charitable scholarship foundation so any big money spent on marketing and "sexy" pieces is taking away from the core mission of the organization to financially support the students of our industry. I do think there are unique & memorable ways PGSF can market more effectively to students. Fortunately, I can help influence that by serving on their board. The fact that there is even PR to start a conversation about this is a leap forward from where the board was a few years ago regarding marketing. Everyday I am encouraged by the passion of the people of our industry. Positively focusing this passion constructively is what we need to do going forward.

Again, thank you for bringing attention to the core initiative here and I know the PGSF board looks forward to everyone's constructive feedback on unique, creative, and effective ways to engage with students and get them EXCITED about print.


By Joe Webb on Oct 29, 2015

We need young people to invigorate the business and to become our next round of entrepreneurial managers. It starts with their first interactions.

Please, if you know of any print business owner who is doing a great job in this area, especially if they have attracted candidates in the past who now serve in important leadership roles in the company, get in touch.


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