Attracting young talent into the print industry
The print industry needs to tempt younger people through its doors – so what can businesses and educational institutions do to bring in some fresh talent?
While the thousand-year-old practice of print is revered for its rich and important history, it is struggling to recruit younger people. According to FESPA, the average age of its members is 43, while findings from the Bureau of Labour Statistics puts the average print industry employee at 46.7. Clearly, the industry needs to start encouraging fresh talent to ensure its longevity, but it faces a number of challenges in doing so.
“The biggest problem is definitely the misperception of the industry as a whole,” says Christoph Degel, Head of Training and Event Management at VDMB. “The only thing people hear about is newspapers and magazines going broke, so a lot of younger people just assume it’s a lifeless industry where nothing is happening, and that we’re all just waiting a couple of years to close our doors for good.”
Christoph Degel, Head of Training and Event Management at VDMB
Of course, this is not the case. While it’s true that newspapers and magazines may be on the wane, industry examples such as packaging, personalisation and direct-to-garment printing remain vibrant. Innovations such as 3D printing and interactive print give the industry the tech-friendly edge that should, in theory, appeal to a younger audience. “But this is not being communicated to the next generation of printers,” says Christoph. “When young people think about what they want to do there are so many obvious career paths – be a doctor, a vet, a policeman and so on – but print is never on the table.”
And on the rare occasions that it is, he says, it’s dull. “You can go to a careers fair and put a sign up and have an employee in their 30s talk about how amazing the field is, but that’s not going to have much of an impact on 16- and 17-year-olds.” Instead, over the last year, Christoph and his team have been attending careers fairs along with young apprentices in the middle of their training. “They’re much better consultants for young people than we could ever be,” he says, noting he’s since observed a marked rise in the number of young people enquiring about the industry.
Sarah Tishler, Development Director at Simpson Group in the north-east of England, agrees that it’s difficult to pique the interest of young people. “You go to careers fairs and you’re up against the likes of tech companies and military organisations with their virtual reality games, and that’s hard to compete with,” she says. “But if you bring practical things, they can get their hands on, such as 3D printing, you have a better chance of getting their attention.”
Sarah Tishler, Development Director at Simpson Group
However, Sarah believes the industry should be making itself known to young people long before they reach school-leaving age. “We’ve started doing a lot of work in schools that use the Gatsby Benchmarks – an international programme designed to get the school curriculum linked to careers. It makes sure kids get encounters with employees and the workplace from a young age.”
The millennial market
In addition to providing speed mentoring to schools – where young people can ask questions about specific jobs, career paths and the skills needed for them – Simpson Group also participates in the Building My Skills programme from the Esh Group, designed to link business with education. Primarily a consortium of construction companies, the Esh group provides inspirational STEM kits to primary schools, including for example wheelbarrows, blocks and child-friendly surveying equipment, encouraging children to think gender-neutrally about careers in science and technology areas. “I’m currently working with the BPIF to create a similar thing for the print sector,” says Sarah. “Something which gets the print industry in front of kids from a young age and says ‘Look, this is also a career option.’”
She adds that while responsibility for tackling the ageing issue falls to everyone in the industry, there needs to be a more “joined-up approach” to doing so. “A lot of companies want to help, but they don’t make the time or provide the resources to do so,” she says. “For example, there are a lot of SMEs that could give talks in schools, but don’t know where to start with creating an engaging presentation. So, if there was a central bank of resources – core presentations that companies could expand and tweak themselves, for example – that would help give them a steer on where to begin.”
Every company has something they can offer – they just need to look at it from a younger person’s point of view
But young people already on the cusp of their career decision-making will enter a world of work almost unrecognisable from that the industry’s 40- and 50-year-olds first encountered, so shifting workplace expectations need to be considered as well. “Younger millennials and those from ‘Gen Z’ have different expectations and needs,” advises Christoph, who says that things like benefits, flexible hours and, where appropriate, remote working rate highly on job wish lists. “These are straightforward ways to make a job more attractive.”
Meanwhile, he says, promoting career aspects such as rapid progression, security and job variety will appeal to young workers apprehensive about the currently unstable employment climate. “Every company has something they can offer – they just need to look at it from a younger person’s point of view.”
However, once the industry has ushered young people through the door, there remains another challenge: training. “There are such limited training resources available,” says Carol Swift, Managing Director of FESPA UK, which is also working on a schools-based pilot project. “Fewer colleges are offering print courses simply because it’s easier to have a bunch of computer monitors in a room with people sat in front of them than it is to have screen or even digital printing facilities.”
You can be extremely knowledgeable about the print process but not everyone is able to deliver that knowledge in a way people can understand
Instead, she says, training is falling to print companies themselves. “The problem here is that these programmes are generally very company-specific. Or, worst case scenario, they just pass on bad practice.” She adds that the industry also suffers from a lack of skilled trainers. “You can be extremely knowledgeable about the print process but not everyone is able to deliver that knowledge in a way people can understand.”
In an ideal world, she says, there would exist some kind of structured programme and facility, but unsurprisingly, cost would be an obstructive factor. “About 25 years ago I was part of a huge project that looked at the feasibility of creating this kind of training school,” says Carol. “We were looking at about £2.5m – and that was back then, it would be much more now.”
It’s not impossible that such a facility could be funded, however, Carol points to the Apprenticeship Levy (which stipulates that all businesses with a pay bill of more than £3m must contribute to a national training fund) as one potential source of financing, as well as contributions from other companies wanting to take proactive measures in this area. Again, though, the need for a cohesive approach prevails.
“There are lots of things businesses can do at an individual level to help attract new talent to the industry – visits to schools, offering apprenticeships and so on – but there needs to be action from all corners to push the industry forward in general. She concludes “an ageing industry comes with consequences. We may lose practical knowledge and skills, and with that the ability to problem-solve. The UK is recognised as leaders in innovation and this means we have to continue to nurture, educate and encourage our younger generation.”
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