GAERF Workforce Survey Finds Skilled Worker Shortage Is a Reality

RESTON, VA—Dec. 5, 2012—Article after article continues to lament the skilled worker shortage that cuts across all manufacturing industries. Finding a qualified worker who has the special skill set, knowledge and ability to accomplish the assigned job is an ongoing challenge. This “skills gap” is growing more severe, forcing many manufacturers to scale back their growth plans.

To get a clearer picture of what this gap means specifically to the graphic communications industry, the Graphic Arts Education and Research Foundation (GAERF) conducted a survey, titled “Skilled Worker Shortage: Myth or Reality?” Distributed to the memberships of the Printing Industries of America and the National Assn. for Printing Leadership (NAPL), the survey received 362 responses to the five questions posed, yielding illuminating results.

A large majority, 73.9 percent (264) of respondents, concurred with the survey statement that: “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.” They further identified the top 10 job positions that were the most difficult to fill:

  • Bindery Technician
  • Account Executive
  • Customer Service Representative
  • Press Operator
  • Estimator
  • Marketing and Sales Representative
  • Prepress Operator
  • Digital-Imaging Specialist
  • Graphic Designer
  • Computer-Systems Technician

When these printers were asked to identify the resources they use to find new employees, the survey revealed position openings are most often filled by promotion from within the company:

Promotion from within the company — 80.1 percent
Job board (e.g.,;, etc.) — 63.0 percent
Headhunter — 25.3 percent
Colleague referral — 57.5 percent
Local schools — 41.1 percent
Temporary agency — 36.3 percent
Other — 26.7 percent

When printers were asked if they preferred to train a new employee or hire someone who had already been trained for the specific available job position, 76 percent indicated their preference for hiring trained personnel.

The survey concluded with an invitation to provide additional comments. Here’s a sampling of the 90 respondents’ insights and perspectives:

  • 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.
  • Many of the personnel who have left the industry due to layoffs or closure have entered other industries.
  • Finding print-experienced personnel is tough. We can find designers, but no designers with printing experience.
  • We’re not hiring. Fewer people are doing more.
  • Bindery positions are the most difficult to fill. Skilled bindery workers are aging or have left the trade.
  • 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.

For more information about the GAERF 2012 Workforce Survey, contact GAERF Director Eileen Cassidy by calling (703) 264-7200 or emailing


The Graphic Arts Education and Research Foundation (GAERF) was established in 1983 by the National Assn. for Printing Leadership, NPES The Association for Suppliers of Printing, Publishing and Converting Technologies and the Printing Industries of America. These three national associations jointly own the Graphic Arts Show Co. (GASC). GAERF was created to channel a portion of the revenues earned by GASC-managed shows into projects supporting a strong future for the industry.

Source: GAERF.

  • Rugar

    I don’t believe this because my husband is an experienced 6 color press operator and experienced shift supervisor and he can’t find a job.

  • geodesicline

    I have the other problem, even with 40 years experience as a folder operator and bindery supervisor, I cannot find companies who need me. So I cannot see that this article as truthful. Johnnie Jones