With Drupa coming to a close, we have reached peak drooling for the print industry’s obsession with equipment and manufacturing technology. Don’t get me wrong, I am a gadget-junkie and love checking out the latest technology. I also realize the industry’s technology is changing at the quickest pace ever and it’s critical that commercial printers understand the possibilities. I know this firsthand. I’ve acquired and transitioned two bankrupt printers into a technology focused service company over the last 6 years.

I get it.

But, I think it’s time to address the biggest threat to the future of the industry, talent.

According to the latest data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics the median age of the print industry is 46.6 years. This is 10% higher than the U.S. total employment median of 42.3 years. Over 76% of the print industry’s employees are over the age of 35 compared to 65% for the U.S. total employment. The age of the industry doesn’t scare me but the growing shortage of talent entering the industry is terrifying.

I was recently asked by Canvas Magazine to share my thoughts on where printers should be concentrating the most effort in 2016 and I couldn’t get my answer out fast enough:

It’s about talent and technology. There is a chasm of a talent shortage that is rapidly creating a sink-hole that could swallow the entire industry.

Your ability to identify, recruit and develop talent is truly a competitive advantage. Your talent is your greatest asset, or your biggest liability. It’s time printers start taking their talent as serious as they take their equipment.

So, what is your talent strategy?

If you can’t answer that question let me give you three little pieces of inspiration from my strategy plus a bonus that I feel is a particular blind spot in the print industry.

young talent

1. Take Risks

I didn’t make the best hire I’ve ever made.

Let me explain. Matt first approached me with his portfolio and asked for a job because he was watching what we were doing and wanted to be a part in any way possible. Sorry Matt, we don’t have any openings. Matt came back three times including basically stalking me at an open house event. Finally, I gave in and offered Matt a minimum wage delivery driver position. Within three months we started receiving raving reviews about how pleasant Matt is and how customers looked forward to seeing him at deliveries. This never happens. Within a year Matt was given the opportunity to manage one of our acquisitions, Scoreboardwhiz.com. That was about 3 years ago and Matt is currently an account manager for printCPG.

When the opportunity arises to bring someone on your team who wants nothing more than an opportunity to support your vision, jump all over it. I don’t care if a position exists or not.

2. Don’t Focus on Hard Skills

You are not HP.

You aren’t looking for a level 2 senior analyst…blah…blah…blah. You need someone who gives a shit about your vision and is going to do everything they can to utilize the skill they have to support that mission, including learning other skills they need in their free time because they know they can make a difference. I don’t care about resume, references, or portfolios just tell me one thing; What are you passionate about?

3. The Platinum Rule

Are you familiar with the Golden Rule? It’s overrated.

Let me introduce you to the platinum rule. Instead of treating talent as you would want to be treated, treat them how they would want to be treated. I’ll give you a minute.

There is no all-encompassing comp or motivational strategy that works on everyone. Sorry, it’s not that easy. You’ve invested in the talent now invest the time into getting to know what makes each and every one of them tick and do whatever you can to support those findings.

Bonus Tip – Recruit


You need the talent, the talent doesn’t need you.

Never forget this. There are some amazing programs at schools and universities all over the world that are generating the type of talent that could take your print business to the next level. You need to find these gold mines and start building relationships early. We have an amazing relationship with Cathy Skoglund at the Arizona State University Print and Imaging Lab. (I’ve hired 4 graduates in 3 years) but there are several options like the Rochester Institute of TechnologyNortheast Wisconsin Technical College, Clemson University and Cal Poly.

As always, I hope I brought you some value. I’m here as a practitioner not a talking head so please let me know if I can help with anything! Please follow my blog and my social outlets and don’t hesitate to shoot me any thoughts, feedback or requests to jake@jacobmwalker.com.

4 Responses to The Biggest Threat to the Future of Print

  1. Jacob- This is an excellent article and you have hit the nail on the head. Too many companies are ignoring this important and looming issue for the industry. Apparently they are depending on “someone else” to take care of it for them. The Print and Grphics Scholarship Foundation is taking an active role towards promoting the graphic arts industry to young people. We offer ideas and support to companies who want to take an active role in this effort. For more information on our organization visit our website at http://www.pgsf.org.

  2. Scott Marquardt says:

    Great Article Jacob. I interview many people and totally agree with finding people with a passion that really want to come work for you. It’s how I got into the print industry 30+ years ago. It took four times before they finally said ok…we will hire you ! Passion, reliability and a strong work ethic is much more important to me than your education. We can teach you what you need to know, just show me you want to learn.

  3. Great stuff. I spent 34 years in an industry for which talent is everything. Purchased two printers last year and am trying to bring in new culture. I have found acquiring new talent to be key as well – but difficult. My immediate response from the local universities has been underwhelming. I will check out your shout outs.

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