It’s been said before, and it’s being said again: print needs to rebrand if it’s to attract top people from outside its own orbit. Mercury Search and Selection MD Dani Novick argues the point.
Dani Novick knows what she’s talking about when it comes to the issues surrounding recruitment in the print industry. As managing director of Mercury Search and Selection she’s well immersed in the arguments, and in finding solutions for getting the right people in the right jobs. The company, founded in 2000 and a partner to the BPIF and IOP The Packaging Society, has a divisional structure with specialists in various parts of print and packaging - including digital print - and handles recruitment across the whole print business landscape, from design, print production, finance, sales and marketing, through to director appointments. So Novick’s take on the how we ‘turn on the talent’ to a career within a print-based operation is worth having. Here’s what she has to say...
Falling unemployment is great for the economy but not necessarily for employers competing for the best talent. Traditionally print has not been seen as particularly creative, clean or modern - times and technology have changed and print’s image needs to catch up to make it more appealing as a career prospect.
In many areas however we see an industry which is not very proactive in enticing new talent into the sector. All too often employers prefer to fish in the same talent pool, looking for ready-made candidates who already have industry knowledge and experience.
Long term this approach could be holding the sector back for a number of reasons. With a confined talent pool employers inevitably end up circulating the same staff until you have individuals who have worked for every major player in that sector. This can potentially push up salaries as employers compete for the same people.
Longer term, as in many sectors of print, we have the ticking time bomb of older staff retiring without sufficient younger people coming through to replace them.
Restricting the talent search to people already in the sector also ultimately robs us of fresh ideas and hugely important different perspectives. Without a constantly evolving approach companies will be unable to differentiate themselves, end up as a commodity supplier, depressing margins.
Indeed investment in new technology is sometimes hampered by a failure to embrace new working practices.
Too many try to integrate new technology with an old business model, rather than looking at how the business can change to maximise the opportunities of the new technology.
Of course it is understandable with financial pressures for employers to want and perhaps need the quick fix of a ready-made candidate rather than investing in training and developing talent in the longer term, but a balanced approach is needed for the long term good of the sector.
Clearly attracting and getting the most out of people fresh to the sector is not easy, there may be some false starts and they may take longer to reach their full potential. However the opportunities they can bring can be immense.
Where clients have been open to it, and their business situation allowed, we have had significant success bring new talent into the industry. So where to the find this talent?
There are three key areas employer should consider when looking for new talent:
BEST IN CLASS
Particularly for technical and operational roles considering other sectors with “best in class” credentials in a particular field has great potential. Many engineering sectors such as the aero and automotive industries have been real trailblazers in areas such as lean manufacturing, logistics and quality systems such as Six Sigma.
Whilst employers may fear a candidates lack of product knowledge the reality is that the real professionals in these disciplines are applying principles and techniques that are totally transferrable. They are almost blind to what the product is such is their focus on objective measurement and focus on process and refinement. Clearly they will have to learn the idiosyncrasies of the product but it should not be any kind of obstacle.
There is a narrative about the shift in manufacturing from “making things and then trying to sell them” to “learn what the customer wants and then make that”. However, simply asking a customer what they want and then providing it can lead to circular thinking which again stifles new ideas. Henry Ford famously said if he’d asked customers what they want they’d has said a better horse.
Customers tend to make a choice from what they think is available or what they understand. With this in mind gaining an insight into a customer’s business, perhaps their customers can lead you to offer something the customer needs even though they didn’t know they wanted it. Here we have had success in customer facing and commercial roles. For example marketing people from the client side working with technical staff to develop new products or ways of working that allow the printer to deliver something special for the client’s client really add value. In this way you differentiate your print company by helping your client differentiate themselves.
SCHOOLS AND COLLEGES
Without doubt every industry and business sector needs to address this section of the population. As older workers retire we need to replace them. There are gripes about the employability of some youngsters but complaining won’t do any good; employers need to engage with schools and colleges. The younger generations are always going to be the most tech savvy and indeed, as a prime market from many consumer products, have great consumer insights. Further, and possibly annoyingly at times, young people fresh out of school or college have no idea “how we’ve always done it”.
Clearly employers need to commit to training but also need to listen to these young people’s ideas. Yes, they are going to make mistakes and have outlandish ideas but one of those crazy ideas could just be the next big thing and transform what you have been doing.
Typically printers may engage with and get applications from design schools but I would argue a broader approach is needed. The technology involved is a long way from heavy metal so look at people from business, marketing and IT courses. In terms of junior or more hands on roles 16 and 18 year old school leavers should not be overlooked.
It’s all very well looking at the above, but how do make both the sector and individual employers attractive?
As stated at the outset, the industry has long had an image problem. Part of this is the focus on product - and there it is! A clear focus on what the industry and the businesses within it actually do is a far more compelling proposition.
Whilst sometimes the titles used may seem a little pompous or confusing there are models that have changed the landscape. ‘Print management’ for instance became ‘business process outsourcing’ – the ink on paper bit was just a means to an end and the new title reflected the wider scope of the role. The direct mail sector has vertically integrated incorporating creative, data management and indeed online activities to become marketing communications.
Of course there are still ‘printing’ roles but increasingly they are more a kind of computer job than the old-fashioned heavy metal print still in the consciousness of much of the public.
Whether you are looking for a design graduate or an installer, talking about how customers/consumers interact with what you do, how you influence them, is much more interesting to potential candidates than the fact you print something and put it somewhere. Explaining how you might user data to customise a piece of print for different locations, users or even individuals is more exciting to them than the often outmoded impression that print is just about getting large production runs of a standard item through the system.
Technology has revolutionised the print sector, and large- format in particular has become dynamic. The issue is getting that message out and gripping the imagination of people who do not have that impression, do not understand all it encompasses, and therefore dismiss it as a career path.
I am under no illusions that recruiting patterns in the industry are going to shift dramatically anytime soon. However, there can be no arguing with the fact that the industry needs to attract new talent. It is out there and the best talent for different roles will come from different sources. The challenge the sector must address is to create the right image and narrative for an industry that has plenty to get excited about.