Finding, Hiring, and Employee Retention in a Post Pandemic World

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There’s an argument some make that the pandemic did not cause all the hiring challenges that printers face today, but what the pandemic did was accelerate trends that were already in place. What do you think? I believe that the trends were already visible, and whether they were acknowledged by enough folks is another thing.

Let’s look closely. The challenge of baby boomers reaching retirement age did not begin with the pandemic. The struggle to attract younger people into the printing industry has been in existence for almost as long as I’ve been in this business. Please don’t ask me how long that’s been — it’s been a long time. The way the work is processed and managed through your plant is always changing, requiring refreshed skills for your staff. With that, skills training is not new. I will admit that the challenges employers face with increased wages and simply attracting applicants have certainly escalated.

The changes that face your staff, in addition to the process-related changes in your business, have accelerated, whether you like it or not.

As you try to find and hire for your open positions, you now have to compete with a wider gamut of competitors. The days of simply offering a higher wage to a competitor’s employee is hardly an option. The people who are skilled are generally staying put as they near retirement age. This leaves the pool of experienced candidates pretty shallow. This seems to be the case for positions throughout the business.

There are a few things that you could consider to help mitigate this situation. These ideas won’t work for everyone, but the theme here is to be creative and to change the staffing needs based on the trends that your facility has already been experiencing. Think of it this way. A football team can either choose to find a quarterback who can run their offense, or elect to find a good quarterback and build the offense around the skills of that quarterback.

Here is an example. Rather than have an experienced, skilled operator at each piece of bindery gear, utilize the skilled staff you do have to act as set-up and troubleshooting folks. Their role is to set the machine up, do the makeready and then allow a less skilled operator to keep “feeding” it. While this is happening, the skilled folks are training and teaching the others so that the department-level skills are strengthened. This can lead to effective cross training opportunities. If you are really ambitious, you can even build your own apprenticeship program.

Another example could be in the sales department. This is an area that seems to be challenged in finding experienced reps. What if you changed the role of the sales rep a bit? Most owners and sales managers will confess that it’s been difficult for their sales teams to develop new business on a consistent basis. It doesn’t happen fast, or happen often enough. But, there always seems to be one or two reps who consistently are landing new business. What if you gave these business development stars the responsibility of opening new doors and then handing the account over to an account manager who could nurture and manage the work going forward? I’m oversimplifying this example, but only making the point that the sales rep roles may need to change to take advantage of, and leverage, the skills available to you.

As a business owner, you aren’t facing these issues in a vacuum. Your local economic development groups are working hard to help and can be a tremendous resource to you — take advantage of their services. The industry associations are also at work to help promote the industry and attract a desirable workforce. One such group, Graphic Communication Workforce Coalition, works to promote workforce programs to advance the graphic communications industry (disclosure —  I’m a board member). Reach out to these groups and your local industry associations to learn about the tactics that might help as you work to fill your open positions.

Employee retention will become another key issue for firms to address. As younger generations join your business, and the remote or hybrid work environment becomes a factor for all, the expectations of the workforce will not be the same as they were pre-pandemic. How you address this will be company specific, but typically begins with an acknowledgement of how your business has shifted.

Creating an onboarding program for new staff is one way to help integrate new employees. Assigning a mentor to new hires is a positive way to make sure the employee gets off to the right start and has a solid chance of success in your organization. After 60 or 90 days of employment, ask the new employee how it’s going. What do they like about the job and the company. If there are areas of discontent, make sure that they aren’t just things that had been misconstrued or misunderstood. And finally, ask them if they can recommend others that they may know for current or future openings.

Make a list of your current hiring steps at the next leadership team meeting. Identify the areas that are working and effective, and those that are not. Lastly, map out a path forward that will improve the situation. Every company has these concerns. The leading companies are the ones that acknowledge that they exist, and actually work to minimize the impact it could have on their business. The good news is that you can start on this today!

Mike Philie can help validate what’s working and what may need to change in your business. Changing the trajectory of a business is difficult to do while simultaneously operating the core competencies. Mike provides strategy and insight to owners and CEOs in the Graphic Communications Industry by providing direct and realistic assessments, not being afraid to voice the unpopular opinion and helping leaders navigate change through a common sense and practical approach. Learn more at www.philiegroup.com, LinkedIn or email at mphilie@philiegroup.com.

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