By Arnie Kahn, President, PrintLink 

Press headlines and reported hiring trends in both the United States and Canada indicate a modest increase over the past few months. At PrintLink we have steadfastly believed that employment would start to show moderate improvement at the end of the third quarter/beginning of the fourth quarter of 2010…and our own statistics demonstrate that this is indeed the case.

While we talk in terms of trends in North America, we are intrinsically a participant in the Global Economy. And factors impacting this encompassing entity play out in real time in the media. At any given time media reports can say that there are sure signs of economic recovery - and the next report can say that recovery is either stagnant or moderately declining. All in all, this appears to translate to a very gradual incline upward. With the indication that the Global Economy is essentially headed in the right direction, the fear factor is lessening and some confidence is returning.

Print redefined

At its heart, printing industry is charged with the responsibility of disseminating information. And we are indeed in an information age that has escalated beyond where it has ever been before, with increasingly more vehicles available to deliver it.

Print remains strong but the definition is evolving. While ink on paper is statistically still the largest vehicle, print by definition is no longer just that.  Says Daniel Dejan, North American ETC Print/Creative Manager of Sappi Fine Paper, “print does not need defending.” He tells printing industry audiences that it is resizing, redirecting and evolving.

People impact the present and future of print

But great technology is of little value without great staff to propel it forward.

As we have stated in previous articles, people drive technology. Technology has matured, offering communications and business-building solutions like never before. But great technology is of little value without great staff to propel it forward.  To be fully effective, it must be expertly driven by people – people who will define and articulate its benefits – people who will keep data-driven resources in top producing form, as well as providing robust and unique solutions to fit your evolving business – people who will make a commitment to your business success.

The demand for expert human resources in traditional print and new technologies is transitioning. Projecting ahead, while it may take some time for economic recovery to be deemed completed, we at PrintLink believe the industry we serve is embarking on some complex hiring needs. In addition to redefining print, service providers need to fully identify – and also redefine – the job functions required to underpin their success. We continue to consistently attract well-qualified job candidates to recommend to hiring managers.

Permanent, contract, temporary

There are pros and cons for each of these employment choices. PrintLink concentrates on permanent staffing. While we do occasionally also assist client companies with contract position requirements, we feel that the highest return on hiring dollars is still heavily vested in a permanent hire. We have historically recognized that there are many financial and demographic reasons why you should motivate employees to join and stay with your company. In a past article we identified many critical factors that continue to deliver a solid foundation for business success.

Why motivate employees to join and stay with your organization?

First of all, because it’s good business. Companies that strive to attract and retain skilled personnel show consistently higher bottom-line profitability, increased value to customers, and stronger sustainability, especially in challenging times.

Second, employee retention saves you money. Conservative estimates suggest that losing a middle manager can cost a company up to 100% of his or her salary in reduced profits, while the loss of a senior executive costs even more. And most of these projections don’t even begin to consider such hidden costs as lost knowledge and arrested return on training investments, the counterproductive effects of mourning and insecurity among remaining coworkers, and an expensive replacement search.

Commitment. Employers receive far more than a day’s work for a day’s pay from an employee who has made a commitment to the company and delivers with the energy and passion derived from it.

Relationships. Permanent employees come to know your company and your customers well. Internal and external relationships are still the cornerstone of business acumen and success.

Productivity is defined and statistically calculated as the amount of output per unit of input (labor, equipment, and capital). Because of staff and capital cutbacks over the past couple of years, many businesses have achieved a high level of this defined productivity.

The old adage of there's never enough time to do it right, but there's always enough time to do it over – just doesn’t cut it anymore.

But there is another strong measure of productivity that is directly related to your robust staff. Permanent employees are trained on your specific workflow… and they come to instinctively and expeditiously take the steps and perform the tasks that are required to profitably serve your customers. In today’s “just-in-time” world this aspect of doing the right things right is a direct contributor to productivity – and to profitability. The old adage of there's never enough time to do it right, but there's always enough time to do it over – just doesn’t cut it anymore. Companies that make a commitment to permanent employment reap far more benefit based on the commitment their permanent employees deliver in return. Employee performance is a key to business success. Hiring on a temporary, part-time or contract basis comes with an inherent risk that the people you trust with your business won’t necessarily be available at an on-again, off-again basis.

Contract employment – when it’s good and when it isn’t

Ad agencies, graphic design firms, communications service providers – the content creators – have been taking on staff on a project or contract basis for a number of years. They do this because of peaks and valleys in their business volume and also because it enables them to bring very targeted specialists on board on an as-needed basis. Because this has become a norm with this business sector, and because there have been enough projects and contracts available to make this form of employment viable, there are a number of strong people in most major marketplaces that offer their services on a contract basis.

Over the past couple of years, with the global economic crisis at its peak, some companies offering print and communications production services have migrated to contract hiring. In some cases this is a viable option and, indeed, a change for the better. While flex and temp hiring may be on the rise for hourly workers, middle and senior management positions are still permanent requirements.

At PrintLink we have seen companies hire on contract only because it saves money on permanent employee benefits programs and also typically means that there is no severance payout required when a contract has concluded. This stopgap measure can potentially deliver a negative impact – both present and future. Commitment is bi-directional. If an employee perceives a lack of commitment by an employer, there could be a proportionately diminishing return on hiring dollars.

Another troubling aspect of an increasing trend toward contractual or temporary route vs. permanent is that it can contribute toward a decline of qualified personnel. As our industry continues of its own complex evolution toward multimedia, this can significantly impact profitability.

Projecting ahead

...median age in our industry is tracking at around 54 years or older.

Like many other business sectors, the printing industry has regretfully lost a number of excellent personnel to downsizing, mergers, and company closures. As an industry, we also have failed to effectively recruit and consistently train new personnel. This aspect has been further augmented by our current adverse – and very real – economic times. Additionally, median age in our industry is tracking at around 54 years or older.

The pending exodus of your retirement-age people, combined with the absence of critical knowledge-transfer systems, means that a significant portion of your organization’s accumulated experience, wisdom, and organizational memory is about to walk right out the door. Therefore, to ensure a smooth transition, you need not only personnel to replace those retirees but also a systematic way of capturing, managing, and transferring the accumulated knowledge and experience of the retiring generation to their successors. This, coupled with the new media knowledge that people you want to attract to the new business of print, will go a long way toward achieving a successful future.

Benjamin Franklin, scientist, inventor, statesman, philosopher, musician, economist – and printer said, “Out of adversity comes opportunity”. We are migrating toward an unprecedented opportunity for the printing industry. Synergies that are evolving between technologies position our industry at the forefront of the multi-channel information age. Opportunity for a profitable future is immense. Strategic planning is essential. A personnel platform that combines the strong benefit of permanent employees with the tactic of some contractual arrangements will propel your company into a robust future.

As the Global Economy continues its slow continual climb out of recession, the redefined business of print needs to be ready. A combined human resource outlook that successions the underlying knowledge of people who have seen the industry through other transitionary times to those who will drive multi-media informational resources forward is a strategy with the components to succeed. But identifying qualified job candidates to support this comprehensive initiative is a high-stakes challenge. Through the evolution of our own deep knowledge and understanding of the industry we serve, PrintLink is positioned and poised to help. As in the past, hiring managers can continue to trust our ability to assist with a hiring strategy that will enable companies to take advantage of the fact that staff is naturally transitioning with the fast-emerging new business of print. We can assist by introducing active job candidates with the depth of knowledge and drive to play a profitable part in the vitality of your business. We can also work with hiring managers to effect a cost-effective knowledge-transfer tactic.

A good plan, complete with an implementation schedule, that includes merging customer requirements with the human and capital resources to achieve them, will go a long way toward fortifying the printing industry as the current and vigorous disseminator of information.

Please offer your feedback to Arnie [email protected] or 800-867-3463.