Fighting The Skills Gap


by Greg Kishbaugh

Converters continually lament many different areas of doing business, everything from competitive pricing to keeping up with the latest technology, but one area remains at the top of their list of primary concerns: that of finding and maintaining a qualified workforce.
The truth is that attracting and retaining solid candidates in the printing industries has always been a challenge. Finding a strong candidate is formidable in and of itself, but after training an individual on the many specific skills needed to operate in the printing industry, keeping them on board is every bit as challenging.
Manufacturers have spoken for years about the “skills gap”, which is an unfortunate reality that is actually forcing many companies to change their growth plans for the future as they simply don’t have enough qualified people on staff to make the plans materialize.
Hoping to find out exactly how the “skills gap” is effecting the graphic communications industry, The Graphic Arts Education and Research Foundation (GAERF) recently produced a survey called Skilled Worker Shortage: Myth or Reality? The survey was distributed to the memberships of the Printing Industries of America and the National Association for Printing Leadership (NAPL).
The survey posited the following statement: “While the national unemployment rate hovers above 8 percent, hundreds of thousands of jobs go unfilled because employers cannot identify candidates with the required knowledge and skill set.” Nearly 74 percent of respondents felt this statement to be true. In other words, the jobs exist (certainly in the graphic arts sector) but applicants simply do not have the proper skills set.
When respondents were asked how they typically find new employees, 63 percent said they use job boards, 25 percent use headhunters, almost 58 percent found referrals from colleagues to be the most successful, while 41 percent use local schools as a resource and 36 percent use a temporary agency.
When asked if they would prefer to train a new employee themselves or hire someone already trained for the specific job position, 76 percent said they would prefer to hire trained personnel.
The survey concluded with an invitation to provide additional comments from respondents:
• The challenge we have faced is finding managers and sales professionals who can understand and apply the capabilities of the new more digital and faster technologies. It requires more creative problem solving and management of an accelerated workflow.
• Finding someone with working knowledge of the latest social technologies is difficult.
• Machine operator positions require already trained operators, who are fewer in number due to aging of the industry and a lack of new talent coming in.
• It is very difficult to find people who have a good work ethic.
• Because most companies are running so lean, the positions that are vacant demand an experienced worker over a newly trained one.
• Employers in our area are in dire need of skilled technicians in all production areas with press and finishing being the largest need.
• Finding print-experienced personnel is tough. We can find designers, but no designers with printing experience.
• It is harder and harder to find quality people these days. Companies need to treat loyal, talented employees like assets and invest in their growth.
No question this challenge will remain for the foreseeable future, yet it remains an area that forward-thinking printers can turn to their advantage. For the flexo printer who successfully unlocks the key to attracting and retaining high-quality employees will have a huge, nearly insurmountable, competitive advantage.

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