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How to Move Smoothly from Rookie to Print-Shop Manager

(October 2008) posted on Mon Oct 06, 2008

This is the story of a screen printer who, after years of hands-on experience on the production floor, gets promoted to a shop-management position. Discover the struggles he faces during the transition and how he overcomes them.

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By Gordon Roberts

Keep an eye out for the person who will make your transition even more difficult. Over the years, I have noticed that there’s always one person on the shop floor who believes that he or she has been passed over and should rightly hold the position that you appear to have stolen from them. However illogical it may seem to you, it makes perfect sense to them, and they will undermine everything you try to do until you address the problem directly. It will save you a lot of pain in the long run if you can figure out early on who that person is and start working out the best way to get them on your side.

Change will seem like a very slow and lengthy process, so establish some data that you can use to measure your progress. Figure out what the production figures are the day you walk in so that you have a credible bottom line from which to work. Update them every day before you go home so that you can see if things are improving. I once worked with a process engineer who taught me always to have a printout of these figures in my back pocket to keep things in focus, especially when you find yourself bogged down in the day-to-day minutiae of running a shop.

It’s easy to lose sight of the forest when you’re lost deep among the trees, so keeping track of productivity allows you to see immediately if things are declining and quickly make any necessary adjustments Alternately, a quick glance at improving figures can give you the boost to keep pressing on through difficult periods. The best part of having that piece of paper in your back pocket is that it’s always handy to answer difficult questions from upper management when they feel that things aren’t moving along as quickly as they’d hoped. The process engineer showed me how to adopt my best Jimmy Stewart look and fish in my pants and pull out this piece of paper. I’d then casually remark that production appeared to be up by 20% since I took over and overhead had dropped by about the same amount. There is not much room for argument after that.

In my next column, I will tackle the practical problems involved in turning around a print shop and see whether we can’t come up with a strategy that will quickly deliver the bonus that John so badly wants. Meanwhile, get out a large piece of paper and start mapping out a flow chart, beginning with the moment the order arrives in your inbox all the way through to the moment it leaves. Don’t worry when it starts to get messy and complicated, because it’s the best and only way for you to really understand what you are dealing with. By the time the chart is finished, you should know more than anyone else involved in your pro-duction process about how things are being done on the shop floor. The solutions already will have begun to become more obvious.



Gordon Roberts has a history in screen-printing production management that spans more than 25 years. He has held supervisory positions in shops that represent a broad spectrum of application areas and markets, including printed electronics, apparel, signage, and retail graphics. Roberts has presented training courses on the basics of screen-printing production and on shop management for the Screentech Institute and is presently a consultant for the screen industry. He can be reached at




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