Print's Age Problem: Here’s why your business needs to pivot its attention to millennial talent
Millennials get a bad reputation. They can’t buy houses because they’re eating Himalayan sea salt avocado toast with $7 oat milk lattes. They ruin concerts for everyone because they can’t put their smartphones down. And, they’ll sport Nirvana T-shirts without being able to name three of the band’s songs. But they’re entering the workforce in droves, and their aptitude for technology and their forward-thinking ideas are changing numerous industries as we know it. The only problem is, they’re not exactly clamoring to get into print. This poses a major roadblock for the industry because they are needed to take over for their older counterparts as they continue to retire.
Thankfully, there are steps you can take to recruit top talent to your print companies. To guide your hiring process, we spoke to John Berthelsen, vice president of development for the Print & Graphics Scholarship Foundation (PGSF), Warrendale, Pa., which is a 60-year-old, not-for-profit organization that provides more than 200 students each year with scholarships for technical school, two-year programs, four-year degrees and graduate degrees in the print and graphics industry; and Greg Muzzillo, founder of Proforma, Cleveland.
To understand why young hires are important, it helps to have a thorough understanding of the current generational landscape in the print industry. Berthelsen shared some valuable insights.
“As you are probably aware, the number of young people is declining, so it’s a shrinking pool of potential people,” he said. “And the graphic communications industry, whether it’s on the supplier side or the provider side, has never been the greatest at promoting the industry or doing recruitment.
“So it’s becoming more and more of an issue because we’re competing with every other industry out there for a shrinking pool of potential folks to come into the industry,” he continued. “As a result, more and more companies are realizing that this is something that needs to be addressed.”
For Muzzillo, the challenge isn’t finding young talent for the print industry, as a whole, but is instead in filling certain positions, like sales and management trainee programs.
Berthelsen agreed that it’s specific sectors that are suffering, but in his experience, it is becoming increasingly difficult to find and train skilled press operators to replace the veteran employees who are nearing retirement.
The Misconceptions and Opportunities
A hurdle in getting young hires interested in print is that they’re misinformed about the industry. Muzzillo explained some of the negative opinions, and how they’re unfounded.
“Some people, old and young alike, think printing is a dying industry—it is not,” he said. “It’s just a changing industry. Highly visible, small print shops are shuttering, while companies banter on becoming ‘paperless.’
“Truth is, our industry is growing,” he added. “The market has evolved into being served by larger, more sophisticated providers. End-users are embracing distributors because they appreciate that no single printer can have the breadth and depth of products and services to help them do more business with fewer suppliers.”
The print industry is also highly versatile with numerous opportunities in different sectors.
“For young individuals who seek the ability to express creativity in their career, print is a great business,” Muzzillo revealed. “From graphic design to extensive problem-solving, there are many outlets for creativity.”
Berthelsen backed up Muzzillo’s point, and he also explained that in addition to working in whatever sector they want—whether that’s sales, customer service, production, etc.—younger employees can also work for a small business, a large company, a city-based enterprise or one in a rural environment. In other words, the possibilities are endless, which makes print an ideal opportunity for young recruits.
While your recruiting department might be aware of the advantages the print industry can provide to new hires, it’s a little more complicated to get those facts in front of the prospective employees. Both Berthelsen and Muzzillo agreed that print companies need to ramp up their hiring efforts at the college level.
“One of the things that continuously surprises me is that [print companies] can’t get young people to apply for a job, and yet they don’t go to career days or career fairs at their local schools,” said Berthelsen. “If there’s a local or regional graphics program, they don’t communicate with the instructor or work with the school, and it’s a self-fulfilling prophecy.”
Muzzillo shared some other college-recruitment suggestions, which included hiring interns and developing a relationship with the placement offices at various colleges. He also discussed several company initiatives at Proforma he’s seen success with, including a group called “Next, Proforma Under 40.”
“This group provides our younger people with a forum to share their unique perspectives,” he elaborated. “Additionally, we embrace the culture and workplace desires of younger talent, which includes flexible hours, work-from-home flexibility and focusing on giving back to the community. We have also created a Support Center Advisory Council, which gives our employees a voice in the management of the company.”
Social media is another huge recruitment tool that is under-utilized.
“I think companies that have a good social media presence, and use them in the right channels to reach out to young people, are seeing success with that,” said Berthelsen. “And, of course, the key there is identifying the proper channels to work with.”
In terms of the “proper channels,” Muzzillo gave us a breakdown.
“At a minimum, you will need a great LinkedIn presence,” he urged. “Younger folks aren’t on Facebook; they are on Instagram, Twitter, Snapchat and more. Even if a young person chooses to consider your company for a career, they will validate your company on social media and Glassdoor. If your company doesn’t shine on these platforms, you really don’t have much of a chance.”
He also revealed that sometimes it is the current print employees that give the industry a bad reputation, and as a result, deter young recruits.
“I talk to a great number of aging print shop owners and print distributors, and many of them, not all, are very negative about the industry and their business,” he said. “If you spend most of your children’s growing years complaining about your business at the dinner table, I guarantee your children will want nothing to do with joining your business. Even worse, they will tell all their friends at school what a terrible business printing is.”
Muzzillo had some final remarks that hiring managers should keep in mind when recruiting young talent.
“To be successful in this industry, a person needs to have a passion for learning and the drive to do their job well,” he said. “Hiring, training and retaining great young people could be a great contributor for decades to come.”