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Thoughts on Finding Skilled Bindery and Print Shop Staff

Posted by Andre Palko on Fri, Jan 18, 2013

bindery workersHaving trouble finding qualified, skilled help for your post-press department? You’re not alone. A recent article on piworld.com highlights a common lament in the printing industry. "Finding a qualified worker who has the special skill set, knowledge and ability to accomplish the assigned job is an ongoing challenge. This “skills gap” is growing more severe, forcing many manufacturers to scale back their growth plans."

In an effort to discover what this means to the printing industry, the Graphic Arts Education and Research Foundation conducted a survey in which nearly 74% of respondents agreed with that general assessment. Finding the right worker with the right skills is difficult, even with chronically high unemployment.

Number one on their list of top ten positions most difficult to fill is Bindery Technician. I don’t think that’s a new problem, considering the nature of skilled bindery work. It’s always been a challenge to find the right bindery help.

Not only does a bindery job demand general and equipment-specific skills, it can be physically demanding. It often requires long hours. There is almost always job pressure since the bindery is usually the last (or next-to-last) guy in the production process and any extra production time available at the beginning of a job has been used up by the previous departments. And while the pay can be good, in many cases it has not kept up with the times, leaving wages in some regions at marginal levels.

It’s also no surprise that 76% of employers preferred to hire trained personnel. Yet the pool of qualified bindery and printing personnel is shrinking. Combine that with the demanding nature of the job and the hiring employer has an increasingly more difficult task. So what can be done?

If you can’t promote or cross-train from within, you probably turn to outside hiring resources such as agencies, job boards, headhunters and classified ads. These may work better in more metropolitan areas with larger labor pools. In smaller communities you’ll have to do some heavy convincing or pay relocation costs to find a suitable candidate.

One under-utilized resource is the local educational system. Community, state and local colleges as well as technical high schools are always searching for placements of their students in a wide variety of internships before graduation and in jobs afterwards. Of course there are pros and cons to this approach.

The plus side:

  • Nearly all would-be interns come with a basic understanding of office software programs and working online. You won’t have to teach that and in fact they can often teach us a thing or two! They will probably be fast at learning your business-specific programs.
  • Internships are often subsidized by the school. In some cases it’s possible to get an employee for free or for very low cost for an entire summer. We recently took a graphic design intern on board and found out that the community college had a sponsor who paid half the interns wages for the entire summer. Deals like this make it much more feasible to train someone new and significantly offsets the high cost of training.
  • You get pre-screened candidates. We talked directly to the department chairperson at the school to let her know our requirements. She sent us a candidate who fit our needs perfectly. In effect our intern had been pre-screened for a good work ethic, attitude, skills and aptitude for the job. Prior to this we had been interviewing numerous candidates whom we found through more traditional channels but who did not quite fit our needs.

The downside:

  • Unless your local school has a printing or graphic arts program, you may not find the exact skills you need for your shop.
  • Be prepared to do the hiring process at a somewhat slower pace than what we’re used to in the business world. School life revolves around the academic calendar and if you expect something to happen during a semester break or a school holiday, you’ll be disappointed.
  • You need to be proactive and spend some time finding and communicating with the right people at the school. In our first attempt at recruiting from this college we spent an entire day at a job fair. Despite an abundance of employers offering work and it being open to the public, almost no one showed up. (This is astounding to me, but that’s a subject for another article!) The point though is that we did not give up with our first, somewhat traditional recruiting attempts. We spent time getting to know the right people and then it fell in to place.

The flip side of this hiring problem is that if you happen to be a skilled bindery worker, you should always be able to find work. If you keep you bindery skills sharp and pursue constant learning, it can pay very real dividends. Yes, you might have to relocate or the wages may drop for a while, but the odds are good that someone out there is looking for exactly what you have to offer.

Please feel free to share your hiring successes and failures below.

Tags: Bindery Business Tips, printing business, employee education