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Thoughts on Finding Skilled Bindery and Print Shop Staff


bindery workersHaving trouble finding qualified, skilled help for your post-press department? You’re not alone. A recent article on 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.


Hiring has become more difficult over the years. 15 years ago an ad in the paper yielded a stack of qualified people, now the stack is small and nobody is qualified.  
We like to hire trainees for the bindery. We usually give a test on mechanical knowledge, including reading a ruler.  
After someone is hired the first week should be just learning to handle brochures, books, and paper in general. It is nearly impossible to learn the machines while trying to learn paper handling. The attitude of the shop in general needs to be a "bring is on" mentality. This makes the long hours and tight deadlines more of a challenge than a demand. One of our favorite sayings around the shop is we can do 500 of anything.
Posted @ Friday, January 18, 2013 2:48 PM by Allen Kawa
I have been a bindery operator for 40 years. I started out as a stitcher operator on a 18 pocket Sheridan.I have since learned folding, cutting and lot of miscellaneous small equipment. Now I can't find a job. If I do get an interview they want to pay 12 dollars an hour. I live near Elk Grove Village, Illinois. It used to be the printing mecca. Now not so much.
Posted @ Saturday, January 19, 2013 10:54 AM by Bud Ebert
I agree with Bud. 
I am in for 31 years and have learned all phases of bindery and some digital. 
Since our lackluster government has screwed up this country with recession,inflation and the immigration problem Bindery job earnings have decreased dramatically and people like us who put in they're whole lives to learn a trade are looked over for a new cheaper Bindery Tech that most likely doesn't have a clue.  
Maybe Andre should think about starting up a blog or website to help Techs and Businesses connect. 
Whats out there now especially SEMPER is a joke. 
Cmon Andre How about it? 
Posted @ Sunday, January 20, 2013 10:29 AM by Ed
I agree with you Ed. Thirty plus years a stitcher/folder/cutter/ominbinder operator. First company I worked twenty years for went out of business. I was offered a job for ten dollars an hour. What? Are you serious? Take it or leave it. I took it. For five years. Better offer came a long. Ten years running with doubled wages for which I'm grateful. Bad news is ten years now living in constant fear my employer would be more than happy to can me in a heartbeat for anyone they could find to do the work cheaper. Bottom line is this- get paid starvation wages and feel secure, or make a survival income frightened of the future. Only blessing in any of this new economy is that no one I've seen these past ten years in the bindery trade is willing to do the grunt work long enough to actually learn the trade as what I was taught. Too many now want to talk when they should have sense enough to listen and learn from the operators who've been around the block a few times. The irony is after all these years the best bindery operators I've known are those who recognize it's not about what they know, but how much they have yet to learn. Yes- absolutely! You going to tell me how to run this job effectively when you don't have a clue how to handle the paper? You can't set-up and run a drill for love of mercy but lecture me on how to best cut and fold and run a 48 pg. book? Some days I never know whether to cry or laugh. Mostly though I cry. What few of us are left live with a constant melancholy desperate to pass along what little we've learned to a younger generation that's not around or not interested in listening. Show me the money and I'll learn. No. Learn the trade and I'll show you the money. Sad state of affairs yes it is.
Posted @ Sunday, January 20, 2013 2:43 PM by James Froehle
It's interesting to hear this from other parts of the country. I'd hoped that things were better else where. I started in the bindery about 15 yrs ago. I learned everything I could get my hands on. I really loved working on the machines. Eventually I worked my way into middle management. The problem I'm running into is no one wants to pay for good help. Sure you can get some hack in to gimp his way through simple projects for $10 an hr. But what about the real craftsmen. You know the guys who take pride in completing complicated jobs and don't just say "Nope we can't do that." They find a way and make it work. These people get over looked for the cheaper wages. Due to hard times I have since been moved all around the company and I've learned everything I can. My wages have gone down. But I have to hope that eventually someone will value what I have to offer, and realize the importance of the "pee-ons".
Posted @ Monday, January 21, 2013 9:32 AM by Jeremy
Thanks everyone for your comments. For Ed and anyone else interested in connecting with possible employers or employees, we do in fact offer a free classified ad in our print newsletter. Use the Contact Us page to send us your situation wanted ad (or Help Wanted ad if you're an employer) and we'll run it for free in the next issue.  
We don't have an online forum for this yet but we have been talking about setting one up. Maybe we'll get on it now!
Posted @ Monday, January 21, 2013 10:37 AM by Andre
interesting to read your guys comments. things are exactly the same this side of the pond.falling wages, cheap unskilled labour coming into the Bindery to run a particular m/c.When I entered the trade 40yrs ago there was a entrance exam and 4yr apprenticeship before you were recognised. now Employers say it is easier/cheaper to bring people in to train up on a m/c. They all seem to be missing the point. The calibre of people coming into the trade has dropped drastically.Before middle management came from the shop floor. Now I despair with some of the conversations I have had with people who can't even understand the basic's, and they have to relay this to our customers, must make some interesting conversations
Posted @ Saturday, May 25, 2013 4:32 AM by gary foulsham
Gary - Yes, basic skills seem to be gone these days. I don't remember how many times I had to teach people how to read a ruler!
Posted @ Monday, May 27, 2013 7:36 AM by Andre
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