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Can the Graphic Arts industry pay enough?

August 2, 2007

We frequently hear the complaint that not enough people are entering our industry, that many skilled people are leaving the industry and that the over all supply of labor for the graphic arts industry is to low.

From my perspective, I tend to agree that asides from demographic constraints the industry has wider labor problems then normal. The recent articles about the dearth of students and the simplifying of the print process (PressTek’s and Frank Romano’s)are both good pieces to consider. One piece talks about the fact that less students are interested and links it to why students are attracted to being Graphic artists and creative and the other article reflects on making the print process easier IE: requiring less skill, and therefore enlarging the possible labor pool to attract from.

My contribution to the debate would be to look at the attraction part of the equation. The economics of our industry is critical to its ability to compete with other industries. If an industry is contracting, under intense margin pressure and is dealing with extreme change then it’s abilities to attract labor compared to other industries are substantially reduced. If we look at our industry we can see areas of growth and contraction it would be interesting to see if Trendwatch has any data on each industry segment and see if the growth, renewal and transformation part out weighs the decline side. We all see the consolidations and resulting reduction in supply happening in the industry but the increase in productivity in the industry vs the market penetration of print could well be a major cause of this. One way or the other the industry has clearly not been able to compete with other industries for the labor force it needs. The number one way to compete is in payrates for key positions, time after time we see companies looking for skilled workers at payrates the worker would be unable to afford a car on let alone cover room and board. Many of the positions in print do require a higher skill level and years of training to become expert so to lose existing skilled people to other industries and to not be able to attract new students will have a serious effect, Frank Ramono’s recent article mentions the industry needs a minimum of X workers a year just to cover retirement rates underscores the seriousness of the situation.

Payrates are one area but coolness or trendiness is important as well, in order to attract the next generation then the industry needs to understand that generation and use that understanding to get the attention of the labor force. I bet Apple has little problem attracting the labor it needs now. There are many other areas to discuss, if an industry is known to be in trouble then its longevity is in question. This longevity directly impacts our ability to attract labor, who wants to invest years to learn how to run a press and find that the positions will be phased out over the next 10 years. So, the real issue here is that in order to attract labor the industry needs to be successful, to be profitable and in such a way that the wealth generated can be shared with our labor force. The case studies on the airline industry, the steel, car and shoe industries are all to emblazoned in history to ignore. We must learn to embrace change and the potential for new rewards it brings. For without profits we will continue to lose the labor wars and our very industry would be in trouble.

We as an industry still have significant influence when we work together IE the recent Kinko/Adobe issue. Lets use our influence to address the very real labor issues we all face.

I look forward to your input.

David Regan
Semper International

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