Our Changing Workforce
The following article was written by Joseph Polanco, President, Printing & Imaging Association of MidAmerica
If you were to walk into the production areas of several printers anywhere in North America, you would undoubtedly observe something they all have in common. No, it’s not the equipment. Nor is it the facility design. It’s the average age of their employees. Look at the press operators, the skilled bindery technicians, and yes, even the prepress techs. Odds are you won’t see many under 30, or for that matter under 45.
How did this happen—and more importantly—what does this mean for our future? Regardless of what the “tekkies” are saying, digital print is not going to replace all of our offset presses, and inline finishing isn’t going to replace our needs to bind and finish offline.
The printing industry has always been a craft industry. One learned through a formal apprenticeship (when there were trade unions) or on‐the‐job training (OJT) under the tutelage of someone more knowledgeable. Many would begin in small job shops operating single-color duplicators/presses or simple bindery equipment and then make job hops for the opportunities to operate more complex equipment and hone the skills necessary to be called a craftsman.
The apprenticeship programs, as well as many of the high school and trade programs which fed the industry are long gone. The duplicator press, which was the genesis of their journey as a press operator, is hardly ever found in print shops. The job shop has been replaced with a broad range of print providers—all running digital equipment.
Lingering Effects of the Recession
Another complication was that the industry workforce took a dramatic hit in the Great Recession which was exacerbated by the move to digital‐based communications. There was no reason to hire new people, and anyone with substandard skills was let go. We went through nearly five years of limited hiring in the pressroom and bindery. Anyone who had been laid off in 2007 or 2008 quickly determined that their future no longer existed in our industry. The result is that we no longer had the “reserve” labor pool that was always available in prior business cycles.