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Web Offset--Efficiency Is Inevitable

April 2000
Labor shortages, advancing technology and customer demands are issues driving web printers toward streamlined operations.


BY ALLISON ECKEL


"I.N.S. is Looking the Other Way as Illegal Immigrants Fill Jobs: Enforcement Changes in Face of Labor Shortage." This headline sang out from the front page of an early March edition of The New York Times. The article reports that the current pool of labor in this country is so small that the Immigration and Naturalization Service is turning its back on any illegal immigrants who are contributing to the U.S. workforce.

Where did everyone go to create such a crisis? Well, the Baby Boomers are retiring—some earlier than others, if they played their stock cards right. The GenXers are the heirs apparent and there just aren't very many of them. The new Boomers are not even in high school yet. For web offset printers, this means belt-tightening time. It also means—the connection is arguable, but unmistakable—incredible advancements in automated prepress and pressroom technology.

"Finding people is difficult," states David H. Bracken, president and CEO of Brimfield, OH-based Press of Ohio, and current president of the Web Offset Association (WOA), an affiliate of Printing Industries of America. "We have a full-time recruiter; we also search high schools in the area and provide incentives for employees to bring people in. You just can't let it defeat you."

Tom Basore, WOA executive director, reveals that the Web Offset Association 48th Annual Conference—April 30 to May 3 at the San Francisco Hilton & Towers—will offer several sessions regarding personnel issues such as hiring, training and retention.

Basore has observed that as the pool of qualified and trainable workers continues to shrink, web printers are looking elsewhere for solutions. "There's a real people issue out there and it is driving a greater use of technology: If you can't find people to do it, then you have to rely on technology to get the job done."

New web presses are featuring automated functions such as ink key setting, plate changing and press washup. Finishing lines, both in-line and off-line designs, are providing high value-added techniques. Digital prepress is phasing out film and enabling digital file transmission.

Of all of these technological enhancements, the digital front end has caused the most headaches for everyone involved in the printing process. But every advancement brings relief, and many advancements are on the horizon.
 

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