A Fulfilled Workforce Costs Less in the End –Michelson
Despite national unemployment rates that continue to hover above 9 percent—not even counting the long-term unemployed who have given up searching for jobs—many printers still lament how difficult it is to find, and keep, skilled workers. Printing plant closures and staff downsizings due to the prolonged recession have alleviated the problem to some degree, but the weak economy has also driven many talented managerial, sales, IT, financial and production pros to pursue careers in other industries. And, that doesn't even take into account the long-term hiring problems that will surely result from the dearth of young, tech-savvy people entering our industry.
Many graphic arts employers have traditionally taken the stance that providing extensive training and subsidizing continuing education amount to money down the drain. After all, they argue, one of their competitors will end up just stealing away their home-grown talent anyway, so why bother investing in long-term staff development? But that's surely not the attitude displayed by the seven companies profiled in our cover story, which have created employee-friendly workplaces to foster loyalty and longevity.
Take book manufacturer Malloy Inc. of Ann Arbor, MI, for example. It provides 100 percent college tuition reimbursement, physical wellness and mental health programs, first-response medical training and numerous extracurricular activities. The firm has even spearheaded an effort among local book printers to create an English as a Second Language (ESL) program on-site. And, it trains and pays employees who become tutors.
Or consider Waunakee-WI-based Suttle-Straus, which provides numerous employee benefits, including interest-free loans for workers who buy home computers, free legal document planning services, military leave differential pay and interest-free checking accounts offered through the employer's bank. President John Berthelsen personally hand-delivers paychecks to Suttle-Straus' nearly 200 employees to show appreciation.
Vox Printing, in Oklahoma City, provides similar perks, including paying 100 percent of the health care, dental and life insurance premiums for all 52 employees. Its 70-acre campus also sports a baseball field, Frisbee golf course, water slide and a creek for fishing and canoeing. Vox President David Reid even has a local minister visit the plant once a week to talk confidentially to anyone seeking spiritual and emotional guidance.
Named one of the “2011 Best Places to Work in Indiana” by the Indiana Chamber of Commerce, the HardingPoorman Group (HPG) has the additional challenge of fostering a single culture for what is essentially six integrated companies. Continuing education is bolstered through the Indianapolis-based printer’s own HPG University and professional development program. Health and fitness are strongly encouraged. Employees receive bonuses for meeting individually established health goals, and can also sign up for personal fitness training sessions up to three times a week (while still getting paid). President and CEO David Harding also shares the wealth company-wide, paying out twice-a-year bonuses based on 12 percent of the company’s profits and an annual spoilage bonus for savings (less than 2 percent of company sales).
Hopkins Printing has gone even one step further by converting its Columbus, OH-based operation into an Employee Stock Ownership Plan (ESOP) back in 2007. Workers start earning company stock after just one year of service, with company profits funding the accounts. According to CEO Jim Hopkins, $1.5 million has been contributed to his workers' accounts in the past 24 months alone.
With profits lean—if there are any—for many print shops in these tough times, the above-mentioned employee perks are beyond the scope of what most companies can offer. But, it doesn't cost a lot to meet regularly with your employees to acknowledge their efforts, to sponsor an employee softball team or to provide cross-training to show that you encourage ongoing development. After all, it's the little things that can go a long way. PI
Mark T. Michelson, Editor-in-Chief