By Carro Ford Weston April 20, 2006 -- Any printing services owner or manager will be quick to say their people are the most important assets of their companies. They all agree hiring is a challenge--and a much more complex decision than selecting a new digital press. Arnie Kahn is well-qualified to shed some light on the hiring market in this industry. 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. People are making hiring decisions, but they are operating with more caution and a more discerning hiring methodology As the economy improves, this is having an effect on hiring. "Hiring in the graphic arts market is quite active," Kahn notes. "It was last year, too, and there's a similar intensity this year. People are making hiring decisions, but they are operating with more caution and a more discerning hiring methodology, because they're watching expenses and making sure the individuals they hire are going to benefit them. It takes a while to find someone whom you know will make a contribution. You have to add selectively." Hiring can be challenging for companies that are struggling to keep their heads above water. "It's a conflicting dynamic, knowing you need people and that they will need compensation at a certain level," he observes. "You have to work harder to get them 'married,' but if they want it badly enough, they get it done." Hot Market for Digital Sales Although the industry has fragmented over the years, Kahn says the job market is pretty balanced geographically. Traditional mid- and senior-level exec roles will always remain a large percentage of the available jobs, because these jobs retire or change when companies merge or are acquired. However, with the changing face of digital printing has come a new set of in-demand job skills. The migration to digital technology has created jobs that weren't as prevalent five years ago, like large and grand format, and ink jet. "A successful digital print person with strong talent--all printers would love to have someone like that," he says. Solution sales people are one of the hottest jobs to fill Digital print sales people have become especially desirable. "Solution sales people are one of the hottest jobs to fill," Kahn declares. "Old-line print salesmen were just not creative. They would go in and ask what projects a customer had and what could they quote on. Personality and relationships building were not as important then; it was price. This commoditized projects and drove prices down. Now we need sales people who are good listeners and who find out about a client before offering a solution. Then if they are creative and have a good marketing head, they offer solutions to answer particular needs." What's in Your Skill Set? Hiring should be planned, not something that occurs reactively. A hiring strategy helps prepare a company for what they want to be. An inside marketing plan is essential, but problematic. "Printers were never good marketing people years ago, but now they understand they need people inside who can develop new markets for them." A hiring strategy helps prepare a company for what they want to be Printers are getting more into mail and fulfillment, content management, and ironically, more labor-intensive processes, so they can handle clients' work from the beginning. This means they need employees with experience in database management, mail and fulfillment software, USPS requirements and other software applications -- "All these are necessary skills for a more sophisticated approach. You didn't see these years ago, but they are increasingly prevalent today," he says. Kahn advises that "if you're going into new technology, know what kinds of people you need. For example, what skills do you need for wide format or to incorporate software architecture into your print production? Print professionals will have to know VDP, digital printing, video jet, mailing, labeling and personalization. These are becoming hotter, whether you're talking about a hands-on position or something more managerial." If you're going into new technology, know what kinds of people you need As the market moves to the Internet and even to cell phones for communication, how can printers fill the gap that once belonged to printing? It's a continuing problem, but businesses that have implemented a hiring strategy will have the right skills in place to be successful. Look for Part 2 of this series, coming soon in On Demand Journal.