COVID AND THE DOCUMENT INDUSTRY TALENT DRAIN BY MIKE PORTER
he coronavirus has made a mess of the employment landscape, but companies in the print and mail industry can’t afford to sit around and wait for things to get back to normal. No one knows how long it will take, or which parts of “normal” will really return. As companies struggle to develop strategies in such an uncertain environment, they can’t lose track of the challenge presented by an aging workforce. That was an issue before the pandemic, and it will still be a predicament when we are finally through with the daily threat of this infectious disease. The average age of a print industry worker is 47, and a good number of key positions are held by people well beyond that mark. Bringing fresh blood into the industry should still be a priority. The COVID-19 masks may cover a few telltale wrinkles, but skilled workers in the print and mail business are still growing older and getting closer to retirement every day. Historically, skilled workers in this industry have learned their trade through on-the-job training. Once the economy recovers, nearly all the companies in the print/mail business will be looking for replacement workers. Finding someone who can step into a key role in your company on their first day is a long shot. You can’t wait until you’ve got major experience gaps in your print and mail operations crews before you begin working on a replacement strategy. Labor unions and trade schools aren’t emphasizing document production as a field of study. It’s going to be up to individual print/mail service providers 10
NOVEMBER-DECEMBER 2020 | MailingSystemsTechnology.com
to develop training programs for themselves. Start with promising candidates and help them learn your business from the inside. Provide training in a wide variety of areas so your future workforce is ready to handle new developments in technology and markets. Hiring Millennials Younger people will be handling your equipment, customer relationships, and data. That means you’ll be hiring some millennials, who already represent a good portion of the workforce. You must set aside any negative opinions you have about the work ethic of this group. They are the people in the labor pool. Millennials are looking for opportunities where they can develop quickly and have chances to advance. The print/ mail business, though it’s probably not at the top of any millennial’s list of target industries, could provide them a path to their career objectives. Employers must structure their organizations to meet the needs of their upcoming workforce and communicate the benefits of working in the industry to potential job applicants. The self-centered attitude of millennials on your staff could be an advantage. They want to be treated as individuals and they interact with others over multiple channels and methods; the same traits that are driving the personalized and datadriven omni-channel communications your company is probably producing. Who better to recognize deficiencies in an approach or notice an unmet need than someone who embraces these concepts as a major factor in their lives?
Effect of New Technology New technology is turning shops formerly reliant on manual, labor-intensive workflows into automated document production factories. Today’s presses, mail inserters, and other production equipment are thinking machines. Much like the modern automobile, new digital print/mail equipment diagnoses problems itself, makes adjustments on the fly, and communicates with operators via information-rich monitor screens. These advances should be attractive to a younger, tech-savvy workforce. Intelligent machines can contribute to a rejuvenated workforce in two ways: 1. The learning curve for new operators and technicians is shortened 2. Younger workers are digital natives and comfortable with electronic displays and guided operations found on newer equipment Remember when coffee making was an art? Serving espresso used to require baristas to grind the beans to a certain degree of fineness, tamp down the grounds, pull the shots at the right time, and steam the milk. Failing to perform any of those tasks correctly resulted in a sub-par drink with customer experience ramifications. Once the coffee shops began using automated espresso machines, all the employees had to do was press the right button. Training times shrunk, and employers didn’t worry so much about employee turnover. Grocery store clerk jobs changed because of technology too. At one point in time, clerks were rewarded for their speed and accuracy as they punched the price of each item into a cash register and deducted coupons or accounted for soda and beer bottle deposits. They even had to know how to make change! On my last grocery store visit, the self-checkout lanes outnumbered human clerks by about three to one. The same phenomenon is playing out in document centers. As print and mail facilities migrate to digital workflows and install intelligent production equipment, employee knowledge and experience necessary to do the job without constant supervision is shrinking. It won’t take years for a pressman or other machine operator to become proficient. What People Do You Need? In an industry like print and mail that is becoming ever more complex, certain traits
Mailing Systems Technology Nov/Dec 2020