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Education and Training — Skilled Labor: Help Wanted!

March 2008 By Cheryl Adams
Managing Editor
WITH 60,000 graphic arts industry employees leaving the workforce each year—and only a fraction of them being replaced—it’s easy to understand why printers are having a tough time finding skilled labor. When the going gets tough, and printers need an infusion of new workers, chances are, they’ll simply snag them from their competitors.

Which still leaves a gaping hole in the industry’s workforce.

In a business world based on supply and demand, the graphic communications segment continues to turn statistics on their head. In this unique manufacturing field, supply is low, demand is high, yet skilled labor is hard to find.

So, what’s the problem?

Unfortunately, there isn’t just one problem. There are many difficulties cited by industry experts, associations, educators and recruiters. Some of these troubling observations are brutally honest truths, while others reflect misconceptions about the industry. Still, all deserve mention, since each is a part of the problem, whether fact or fiction.

• Young people do not think printing is sexy, exciting, technologically savvy or high paying.

• Parents think printing is hard, dirty, factory work that is apt to be outsourced.

• Parents of college students don’t want their child’s degree to be wasted on a blue-collar career in manufacturing.

• Most colleges do not offer degrees in printing or graphic communications. Only 230 offer graphic communications programs, and less than 1,000 college graduates obtain degrees in printing each year.

• High school graphic arts programs are dying a slow death, with very few schools offering courses and few students enrolled in the courses that are offered.

• High school counselors want students to aim for college. Those not college-bound are not given the same level of guidance, and the guidance/material provided on printing industry careers is often outdated and unappealing.

• Many printing companies are located in small towns, where there are few opportunities for advancement, and the labor force is captive to the local pay scale.

• Process automation, enabled by ongoing technological advances in equipment and workflows, is eliminating jobs.

• With the number of printing establishments consolidating, laying off staff and/or going out of business, the graphic arts is not a promising industry in which to look for work, let alone a career.

• The printing industry’s recruitment, education and training efforts are as fragmented as the industry itself.

Enough already! Obviously, there are some serious problems. It’s time for some answers or, at least, some possible courses of action.

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