In a market where the unemployment rate hovers around 3% and bright-eyed Millennials flock to industries like technology, healthcare and finance, the printing industry, like other manufacturing sectors, is facing a shortage of young talent, both on and off the production floor. According to Gary Walton, Professor Emeritus at Cincinnati State, the school used to have 150 students in its prestigious print program. This year they have nine. This story echoes what is happening across the country; the kids are alright, they just don’t want to become press operators.
A recent article in the Wall Street Journal made me wonder if we’re approaching this the wrong way. In the past year, I’ve spoken with printing company owners who, in an effort to appeal to younger generations, have installed gaming consoles, ping pong and foosball tables in their employee lounges and break rooms. One even has a putting green. Inside the building. But what if we’re knocking ourselves out trying to appeal to twenty-somethings when we might be able to find some of what we’re looking for with fifty-somethings? I know what you might be thinking, “Seriously?!? I’d train people and within a decade they’d retire and their healthcare costs could be nearly double what I would pay for younger recruits.” Bear with me here.
According to the Wall Street Journal article, nearly 8 million Americans over the age of 55 are either unemployed or stuck in low-quality jobs (“low-quality” defined as part-time work at minimum wage and/or part-time work that offers zero benefits). The article follows a group of currently unemployed people, aged 58 and older, as they navigate the world of online job recruitment sites, human resource departments and job fairs. This featured group of “older” Americans has both worthwhile experience and education. They’re smart, conscientious and resourceful. The group consists of people with decades of administrative front-office experience, as well as technical laborers who have worked in machine shops. I know what you might be thinking again. “If they’re such good candidates, why aren’t they employed?” Because they’ve been laid off due to corporate acquisitions, downsizing or companies relocating to foreign shores with cheaper labor. And as far as finding new employment, the cards are viciously stacked against them.
According to the article, “The reasons companies aren’t hiring older workers are complex. Many have long directed recruitment and training at younger workers. Some older job seekers lack the right skills or are unable or unwilling to relocate, while others are disadvantaged by new ways of recruiting, such as online tools that use keywords to identify candidates for interviews. Job-replacement specialists say age discrimination is a factor. Employers may consider older workers more expensive, even at the same pay, because of healthcare costs.”
Maybe hiring older employees isn’t the answer that will solve our industry’s workforce woes (which, by the way, are only projected to get worse) but it might be an answer. And if you’re concerned about these people aging out of your company too quickly, consider this: According to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics, the current median tenure of workers aged 55 to 64 (10.1 years) is more than three times that of workers aged 25 to 34 (2.8 years). So chances are by the time it takes to get your new fifty-something hires trained and contributing to the success of your company, they won’t be searching the postings of monster.com and LinkedIn for greener pastures in their spare time like younger hires very well may be.
I’m aware that my argument might seem facile, and I’m not a package printing company owner involved in the day-to-day headaches and intricacies of recruiting and holding on to talent. However, it seems to me that there might be an experienced and hard-working demographic that’s tap-able for certain job functions that is largely being ignored. Granted, I know you’re likely not going to find a press operator in this group. But many of the best customer service, QA, sales, prepress and purchasing people I know of in our industry are within this demographic.
Our industry has an aging problem. And significant portions of an entire demographic have an employment problem. Perhaps if we alter our assumptions just a bit, somewhere in there there’s a creative way for us to address some of our workforce issues in a market where recruiting that highly sought after, younger bright-eyed talent is only going to get more and more challenging.
Jennifer Dochstader is a co-founder and principal of LPC, Inc., an industry market research and marketing/communications firm. She can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org