Why the print industry has an image problem – and what it should do about it

Today’s print industry, like so many others, faces a labour shortage. And while much of that can be put down to the unsettled economics of our post(ish)-Covid times, the print industry has a particular problem – that of recruitment.

And it’s a problem exacerbated by another – an image problem. According to a recent report, younger generations see the industry as traditional and outdated.

Problems with recruitment

Earlier this year, European paper industry advocacy group Intergraf published the results of a two-year survey, entitled Print Your Future, that examined recruitment and employment across the industry. The report highlights “current difficulties in recruiting young people, not only in terms of numbers but also in terms of a skilled, competent and adaptable workforce”. It points to the fact that in the UK, one of the top four concerns of the industry is access to skilled labour, while in Germany apprenticeships can’t be filled due to lack of applicants.

Four out of five of the companies taking part in the survey label the lack of attractiveness of the industry as a problem for recruitment.

Misconceptions play a big part – the sector is perceived as having an outdated image, as being unable to offer a stable future and as not being environmentally friendly (a big deal for younger generations). That kind of thinking is also prevalent with teachers and parents, who don’t consider working in the print industry a viable career for their students and children.

The survey found that there is also a lack of knowledge around print products, with people assuming that print is all about books, newspapers and magazines. The likes of packaging (which, according to the report, makes up 50% of print production) is generally overlooked.

In terms of remedies, respondents believe that training is key, with 59% advocating for technical high schools specific to printing. Establishing a link between company training programmes and career opportunities is also considered important. 

How to attract talent

Michael Warner is the fourth generation to work at family printers Warners Midlands in the UK. He knows how recruitment works at shop-floor level. His family’s company, established in Lincolnshire in 1926, specialises in web and sheet-fed printing for magazines, catalogues and leaflets. Warner, now 31 and the marketing director, joined from university.
 

    Michael warner young printer

    At the basic level, Warner believes that “employment with someone is a partnership” –time and skills are exchanged for a salary. For him as an employer, qualifications are not as important as attitude: “It’s more about the soft skills behind,” he says. “You can always teach other skills. It’s about who the person is, how they work.”

    Today, however, a lot of importance is also placed on the culture of a business. Warner observes job seekers searching for employers whose values match their own – and he believes the industry needs to focus on what a 17- or 18-year-old wants.

    “We have to create an environment where it’s not necessarily about what we do that draws people to us, it’s how we go about doing it.” Nor does he expect young workers to settle in for six-to-nine months.

    It’s an approach that works. Warner estimates that the average employee has been at the company 20 years – churn isn’t an issue.

    Five tips for successful recruitment

    The Intergraf report comes with an accompanying publication called Print Your Future that boasts practical advice on recruitment. Here are five prime pointers.

    1. Supply schools and career advisers with information about the industry and your company – show the full range of opportunities that print has to offer.
    2. Go to job fairs and bring along current employees so they can explain their work with conviction.
    3. Educate yourself on what younger generations want and expect from employers – values and culture play a big role today.
    4. Use social media not just to advertise jobs but also to show what life is like at your company.
    5. Promote print’s connection to popular culture such as books, comics, board games, photos, art and home decoration.

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