As many large-format digital print businesses continue their transformation to meet the demands of a post pandemic world, I talked with well-known business coach and mentor Chris Jordan about attracting and retaining the right staff for a new era.
Chris, you have been working in the print industry for many years and seen many changes, but we’re in unprecedented times. What are the most notable staffing impacts you’re noticing due to the transformation many companies in the large-format print sector are having to undergo - other than reduced numbers?
The most notable staffing impacts from the pandemic are that millions of employees have realised they have more choice. Prior to the pandemic many companies would not have countenanced people working from home, often because of lack of trust of the employee. The pandemic changed that. Then next came the realisation to many, that VOIP tech such as Zoom, Teams, etc - although we have used Skype since 2003 - meant that a lot could be done online. The next significant shift has started to happen because of the prolonged extent of the pandemic, and many people really started to question if they were working and doing what they want to do. Supply chain challenges, because of the increased global demand of many items has meant a demand for more people, be they shift workers, print or hospitality. This is not likely to be short term.
No surprise, large-format print is facing the same challenges that many other print sectors are facing, and indeed much of the wider industrial world. Several factors have crept up on us all. Firstly, in the UK we are close to 50% of the school leavers attending university. Getting a degree and then going into print is not at the top of many graduates’ lists, or even in the top ten. The type of jobs that school and university graduates aspire to has changed.
We need to sell print jobs as being part of the tech industry. Our industry develops a huge amount of technology - just look at the number of inkjet related development companies around Cambridge. Talk to school leavers about “technology jetting” and you get interest and excitement. Talk to them about print, and they just think you’re from the old world.
We should all be running road shows for school leavers, colleges and universities. Plus, we need to show them fabulous samples of what is possible.
How we position jobs in print and the words we use will define how many people want to join this industry
What is about to happen is that the bar is going to be raised on networking, and collaboration. Those who were good at it pre-pandemic are increasing their efforts. Shortly after that will come the pressure on all industries including print to prove what their individual carbon footprint is. Lil Packaging is a great example of what can be done.
As already touched upon, as large-format print companies reinvent themselves they need to attract people that may never normally consider a career in print (eg IT specialists as an increasing number of companies develop in-house workflow systems, W2P portals etc). What advice can you give the the/the sector about increasing the likelihood of attracting these people?
I would start by asking those in the large-format print sector to honestly re-evaluate what they think they need to be good at and to grow. This question has probably never been more important than now as we approach a post-pandemic world in the west.
I started life as a programmer, have worked very closely with some of the best engineering teams in this technology sector, plus worked at incubator tech companies. What today’s ‘hot coders’ want is not normally found in print companies. There are exceptions, but competing for talent in this area will get increasing difficult, and expensive.
After defining what you really need, I would build a highly trusted core team. Motivated, flexible - and well paid. Part of each of their rolls is to find, and manage external resources - experts in recruitment, sales, marketing, social selling, customer research, pitching, accounts, and retention.
What I see lacking in all sectors of the print industry are advanced, business development marketing, and selling skills. Selling benefits, and not on cost or cost plus. One huge change that I feel the pandemic has accelerated, and as yet is not appreciated is social media online selling skills. Here, there is an amazing opportunity.
I recently asked a bunch of school leavers what they considered the cool jobs to be. IT, design and technology are on the list - many areas where there are job shortages like print, transportation, farming are not. As an industry we are not good at selling ourselves, a topic that we’ve discussed many times.
Once you have managed to get/train top-flight staff, how do you keep them (beyond offering inflated salaries - I’m thinking about things like share schemes etc.)?
Everyone is grappling with this question. First you need to define who, and which jobs, are critical. You will have to pay them more than in the past, and this goes hand in hand with getting better at selling on value.
The pandemic accelerated online purchases by about 50% in the UK, and did it in less than two years. Many retail suppliers expected it to take a decade.
If the job and individual you want to hire is important then first you need to produce a job advert that starts with what you are offering them - why should they join you?) - and have a potential growth path ready.
In a video world I find it difficult to understand, why the job specs are still just written, because making a short video for each specific job is no longer difficult or expensive. LinkedIn has stacks of people across the UK offering to teach you how to make video’s, quickly and inexpensively.
Do you think employers pay enough attention to managing the expectations/mindsets of the different generations within the workforce?
For sure some employers did pay enough attention prior to the pandemic, but the world has changed, and people’s expectations have changed. Huge numbers of people who would have been happy to work in companies prior to the pandemic, no longer are. This is as true in print as everywhere else. This is not just a print problem. The jobs that school leavers aspire to today, are very different to 20 years ago, and the pandemic has changed that again. Owner managers will need to get very creative if they want to attract people to print, farm etc.
Do you think MDs have an outdated view of how their employees will behave?
No, but you have to move with the times, and play what is in front of you. Most, even many, printers of all types do not use/pay for external resources. They are again missing a huge opportunity because there are many highly skilled individuals, in HR, researchers, social media selling, to master pitchers.
The leading companies are already keeping their full-time employees to a minimum and building a core group of trusted employees who are responsible for finding and managing trusted external resources. We have been operating and advising in this world for nearly 20 years had have an extensive network of individuals who we have worked with and trust.
What can print companies do to improve their employer brand as it becomes imperative that they do so?
For existing employees and reputations employers should consider changing how they handle people who are leaving their company. What they say about the company they have left is vital.
To attract, start with a great video or videos defining what they stand for. Their ethics, integrity, the charities they support. Communicate more often and be far more open, honest and direct.
Price and convenience, as well as trust, are major factors. But please, no more product-based websites. More and more of us are only buying from companies we believe in.