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Understanding Our Industry’s Labor Shortage

(December/January 2018) posted on Wed Jan 30, 2019

You may experience the symptoms of a tight labor market each time you place an ad on Indeed, but the roots of the problem in specialty printing run much deeper.


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By Johnny Shell

One of the biggest challenges facing printing businesses today is finding skilled employees. Let’s face it, printing is a specialized field: It’s often difficult to find qualified candidates for open positions, especially with unemployment rates at historical lows. Too often, employers find themselves with a choice between recruiting workers from other shops or bringing in people with no print experience and training them from scratch.

But in order to get a full appreciation of the issue, you need to consider what’s happening in schools where graphic communications are taught. Part of my role at SGIA is to work with the educators who run the secondary and post-secondary programs where many individuals receive their first real exposure to print technology. My discussions with these teachers point to another hard truth we have to acknowledge: Part of our labor dilemma is the challenge of convincing young people to consider a future in print.



Print Education

Many young adults enter these programs because they are drawn to creative design, color, or perhaps computers and graphic applications. Typical graphic communications programs focus on a wide variety of media including web design, video, advertising design, and some of the major printing platforms. But there isn’t a program focused entirely on print; instead, print is rolled in with other types of media. Some schools have abandoned their print curriculum entirely.

“Our students are very interested in our graphics program, but generally they show a slightly stronger interest in screen-based applications than print,” says Malcolm Keif, Ph.D., professor at California Polytechnic State University, San Luis Obispo, California. “I think that programs have to remain relevant to student interest. That means either going 100 percent web and mobile, which some programs have (abandoning print), or blending screen-based media with print media.” 


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