Securing Gen Z Talent in a Transitioning Workforce

Print is not dead, but it sure is hard to find enough employees to run the presses!

In their recent article, “The Great Attrition is Making Hiring Harder”, McKinsey & Company reported there were 11.3 million open jobs in the US at the end of May 2022 – up 2 million from the prior year. In addition, forty percent of all employees were thinking about leaving their jobs in the next 3-6 months.

In September 2022, showed there are currently 373,300 printing industry employees in total, down 1.3% from the prior month as companies tried unsuccessfully to fill open positions.

For one US printer, over 20% of their approved positions were vacant and new hire turnover was 400% despite starting wages rising from $12.00 to $16.00 in the year. In certain cases, technical employees would leave for an extra 10 cents an hour, moving to the fast-food industry.

Since younger workers look for meaningful work, career development, and advancement, Amazon’s latest recruitment ads highlight training that provides new skills and offers “3 to 4 times” their starting wage as a result.

While the current labor shortages are challenging, there are proven and cost-effective solutions. Let’s examine a case study of a large-scale prepress/premedia firm in Toronto for a simple and effective way to address labor issues and create a next generation labor force the industry can adopt.

Analyze your Workforce

The average age of employees was rising and with it came higher salaries due to tenure and a skewed pipeline. In 5-7 years, there would be a significant demographic problem with not enough new blood in the business. The budget for hiring co-op and summer employees was established and the company could identify an immediate positive ROI.

Initiate Co-op Programs

Humber College, Sheridan College, and Toronto Metropolitan University (formerly Ryerson University) have strong third year graphic arts co-op or internship programs.  (Similar good post-secondary, technical, and trade schools exist across North America. CFR can assist in identifying these if required.) Nicky Milner and her team proudly marketed their operation. They created promotional videos and an impressive facility tour. Then they invited the faculty to bring students on an “industry field trip”. Professors modified their lesson plans to tie into the site tour and the plant leaders gave guest lectures at the schools. Developing a relationship with the faculty was key to making the company an attractive model for graduates. Equally, inspiring the existing team ensured that the graduates were honestly welcome.

Make an Offer

The firm typically budgeted to hire 5 to 6 third year co-op students annually, and they established a goal to offer at least 50% full time employment upon graduation. The students were hired targeted to a specific department but in the first month they circulated throughout the business operations to mutually assess fit and interest. A defined objective was to help cover the July / August plant holiday period, with May and June spent training in various roles.

Provide a Clear Career Path

Job ladders showed which entry level positions led to which roles over what period (including Customer Service, Desktop Artist, Video or Photographer, Technology and Management). Salary ranges were also shared. Mentors were provided for each student with periodic executive sessions and reviews. Senior Management was committed to the success of the program, and everyone could see this clearly and got on board.

Think Long-Term

Over time, the division consistently brought new blood into the organization, reducing the average age of the workforce, and positively impacting overall labor costs. The program was self-funding as the reduced overtime and holiday coverage paid for the co-op students. Finally, the division established a Toronto-wide reputation for excellence with the next generation of graphic arts graduates, regardless of whether they were hired or not.

Get Social

Younger employees needed more “social support”, since they missed the level of social interaction they had at school. Offering department managers more discretion and a small budget for monthly or quarterly potluck or pizza lunches boosted morale and benefitted all employees and helped them to feel cared for.

While this case study was based on premedia operations, it is equally applicable to print operations, but you have to fish in the right pond! Seeking out graphic communications students and providing a roadmap for potential career paths helps to shows this generation the way forward.

The one-time set-up of a similar program can be outsourced to an industry specific, operational consultant. There are good employees out there and the industry can be more successful in attracting and retaining the right talent with a passion for what it offers.

By Nicky Milner & Sean Twomey