Now Hiring: Finding the Right Person (Or Machine) for the Job

With unemployment rates the lowest they've been in years, how do PSPs find quality staff members who are also passionate about print?

Good help is hard to find, and that can be especially true when the labor market is in better-than-normal shape. With the US currently boasting more job openings than unemployed people for the first time since 1970, finding the best qualified applicant for the job can become a challenge. Deco Retail, a graphics and décor manufacturing company and custom sign shop out of Atlanta, has experienced the issue firsthand. “The biggest issue we’re having is labor,” says Deco Retail’s Steven Worsham, director of national accounts. “Finding good people is a new issue that we hadn’t really had to deal with in the past.”

Creative Cause Solutions (Read more about Deco Retail and Creative Cause in our September 2018 issue.), a wholesale textile printer, has run into similar issues recently: “We’re labor constrained more than anything else. We’ve got plenty of equipment, we’ve got enormous capacity of about 35 million square feet, and we’ve got plenty of space,” John Otsuki, Creative Cause CEO and co-founder explains. So what does it come down to? “Finding the right people at the right time.”

Some might argue that this is a good problem to have in an industry that’s employing fewer and fewer people overall. With an increase in automation and productivity of machinery, total printing employment has decreased over the past two decades, with commercial printing jobs declining from 800,000 in 1990 to around 400,000 in 2017, according to Printing Industries of America’s “The Dynamics of Employment and Hiring in Print” report compiled by the Center for Print Economics and Management. “Even though the total is trending downward, this is still a large base that creates a demand for new hires as old workers retire, leave for new jobs, and other reasons,” says the report. “For 2017, we estimate the combined printing and print-based publishing industries hired approximately 45,850 employees – a noteworthy sum for sectors that trended down in total employment. Of course, these replacement employees likely have different skill sets as print moves from conventional print processes to digital processes and more service-based business models.”

ISA’s “2018 Pulse of the Industry” report echoes that positive outlook for the print industry. Based on survey answers from hundreds of companies in the sign, graphics, and visual communications field, the report’s results indicate that businesses have continued growth, with many actively investing in new equipment and seeking to hire new employees; fifty-five percent of respondents say their company will grow 10 percent or more in 2018. Opportunities for large-scale projects, investment for new business development, and customers that are themselves growing and requiring new signage are some of the reasons cited for growth. Sixty-seven percent of those surveyed plan to probably or definitely invest in new equipment in the coming year, and many PSPs are adding new staff, with 71 percent of survey respondents looking to hire new production/installation, sales, graphic design/creative, operations/management, and administrative team members in 2018.

It’s an interesting dilemma that shop owners and production managers face. When a bottleneck shifts down- or upstream, is the solution to add more people, more machines, or both? Do you hire the young community college grad with no print experience but a gung-ho attitude (and much-needed computer and social media skills), or do you search for applicants with concrete knowledge of the industry? Will a brand-new digital cutter solve the problem, or will it create new issues without a knowledgeable operator? Ultimately, the proper solution varies from shop to shop. Take some time to identify the issue, analyze the cause, and brainstorm potential resolutions.

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