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Where Have all the Skilled Workers Gone?

Just as print is finally finding its niche in our digital world, the print and design industries are facing another crisis: a dwindling number of skilled craftspeople on both sides. Not surprisingly, they share some of the same challenges…and solutions.

1. Skilled Workers are Retiring

Currently 10% of the workforce is retiring each year across all sectors, with that percentage expected to double in the next five years. Not only does this mean a significant loss – in some cases as much as 50% in the next 5-10 years – of printing professionals, but also of designers who know the ins and outs of print design. This is particularly hard on the pressroom, which has seen a sharp decline in the apprenticeships ⁠that once kept them afloat; less than 1%⁠ of workers are in such a program today.

2. ‘Dying Industry’ Perception Scaring Off Workers

Ever since the 2008 recession when the printing workforce dwindled ⁠due to consolidations and plant closures, those who might have entered the field have steered clear, while industry veterans have sought work elsewhere. This dovetailed with the rise of digital media, which further fueled an image of the print industry as a dying one, encouraging a migration of skilled print designers to digital. With UX designers in particular being a top-priority hire in many companies⁠,and that position drawing upon many of the same skills, retraining of many print designers as UX designers was inevitable. (The median annual UX salary of $70,000⁠ – compared with an average of $55,684⁠ for print designers – hasn’t helped.)

3. Emphasis on Multiple Skills Over Print Alone

Today, employers expect new hires not only to be proficient in print design but also to know at least some HTML, take photos, shoot and edit video, and more. As younger designers are more likely to have most of these skills, they are more likely to get these jobs, applying what they know about digital design to the print projects they’re given. The dwindling number of skilled printers they work with must then make up any shortfalls in their print knowledge, including help with file setup and paper choice.

Addressing Skills Shortages On Both Sides

Just as the challenges facing printers and creatives spring from the same trends, so too do some of their solutions.

Printing Industries of America training and certifications. PIA boasts online resources that address many facets of the industry. For printers, this includes web and sheetfed offset training curriculums and an Improvement Professional in Print (IPP) certification program.

For designers, there are courses in managing color with Photoshop and print production for designers, among others. (As a VMA member, you also enjoy PIA membership, and thus can take advantage of these resources, too.) Additional online courses can be found on LinkedIn Learning (formerly Lynda.com) and Skillshare.com.

Printers: Skilled-Trade Specific Recruitment Websites. Sites like GoGetter.com and PrintWorkers allow printers to peruse the résumés of skilled print industry professionals.

Designers: Agencies and Websites. Though there are several staffing agencies specializing in the “creative” fields, including longtime bellwether Aquent, many experienced print designers are more likely to avoid sharing their earnings with a third-party if possible, hitting the web instead.

  • AIGA. If they’re one of 25,000 members of this association, their first stop will be its design jobs page.
  • iHirePrinting. This site specializes in print professional recruitment, boasting a similar number of job hunters it classifies as “active” at any given time.
  • Glassdoor. This is a popular choice among designers, but be sure that any reviews posted there about your company by anonymous workers are positive before posting jobs there, or you will be wasting your time.

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