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Jul 1, 2000 12:00 AM

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Advertise, educate, recruit, redefine: Finding qualified applicants means recruiting creativity.

Too much work, too little help" has become the mantra of today's printer. Faced with a national unemployment rate of only 3.9 percent, positions requiring increasingly greater technical savvy and competition from the service sectors, the graphic arts industry often finds its members "stealing" employees from one another in a vain attempt to keep up with quality and production demands.

A recent Printing Industries of America, Inc. (PIA) quarterly market survey of printers confirmed that good help is indeed difficult to find. About 82 percent of participants indicated they have problems filling managerial positions, 94 percent struggle with finding salespeople and 97 percent grapple with placing technical personnel. With these statistics, recruiting employees demands going beyond the usual classified ad placement.

And that is just what savvy printers do.

"For the most part, we don't have any problems attracting qualified personnel," admits Jim Sullivan, president and CEO of Discover Color, Inc., a McFarland, WI, digital printer with 60 employees. His company's secret? "Our marketing plan contains a focus on recruitment. Every ad we do, we look to send a dual message that Discover Color is a desirable place to work with and for."

Recruitment hasn't always been easy for the printer. At its early stages, the business had a small marketing budget and was not proven locally. As Discover Color started to acquire high-profile clients, its reputation grew; now, it makes every effort to promote its professional standing. The company makes no attempt, however, to analyze its employment marketing's return on investment (ROI), and for a very plausible reason.

"To say one technique is less effective than another doesn't make any sense to us," says Sullivan. "We will run a radio ad, and though we may not fill the position, a year down the road someone will come in because that marketing message subliminally stuck in his or her brain. We don't bother so much with measuring the returns, as we do with creating a budget and a retention and recruitment plan."

The retention and recruitment plan includes projections of Discover Color's future employee needs. The company's vice president of service, Emma Lyons, analyzes the current workforce and, based on the strategic plan, determines what recruitment efforts will be required in the near future. "We start modifying our marketing plan with an image of what positions we want to fill in two years," explains Sullivan.

Rather than settling for candidates with book smarts but no hands-on experience, some printers are founding traditional apprenticeship programs. "When we opened this plant, we had problems filling skilled positions," explains Michael Kaufman, prepress supervisor at Shorewood Packaging of North Carolina's Weaverville operations. "I had served an apprenticeship many years ago with this company. Back then, that was the only way someone learned a skilled trade. You worked on the job, hands on, and you went to school, and at the end of this time you were a certified journeyman."

Apprenticeships revisited Last year, Kaufman began researching local, state and federal agencies that assist companies in setting up apprenticeship programs. With their aid, Kaufman arranged an apprenticeship for a recent high school graduate. Now he has four full-time adult apprentices and expects three more to enroll in the next few months -two moving from the youth to the adult program, and a student entering the youth program. The youth apprentices typically are in their junior or senior year of college and enrolled in graphic arts programs. The adults are often current employees upgraded to apprentice level. The apprentices' areas of study include prepress, press and bindery.

Kaufman hopes to set up apprenticeships for quality control and customer service in the future.

The Sheridan Press (Hannover, PA), a 360-employee sheetfed printer, is also taking advantage of apprentice-type programs. "Many years ago, we decided it was easier to train someone than to re-train someone," explains Craig Rineman, vice president of operations.

The company has implemented a training program for potential press operators. Based on the Graphic Arts Technical Foundation (GATF) training modules for sheetfed press operators, the entire program comprises 12 to 13 modules and takes about two years to complete. At the end of each module, a participant must pass a test to proceed. After this period, a trainee is eligible to work on a small perfecting press and then works his or her way up to a full-color sheetfed press.

The program is designed to not only prepare future Sheridan press operators, but to ensure that each candidate is trained to the best advantage of the company. "It's a reduction of variables: We don't want press operators trained 50 different ways from Sunday. We want them trained our way," says Rineman.

Trainees don't necessarily have to have printing experience, although it is preferred. Above all, Sheridan looks for a "can-do" attitude. It is considering a similar program for prepress candidates. Its sister firm, Dartmouth Printing Co. (Hanover, NH), already has such a training program set up for salespeople.

The hunt is on Many printers view hiring a recruitment service or headhunter as a last resort. There is a fee involved, and some printers have heard horror stories about poorly screened employees, unethical recruitment methods and wasted money. Such experiences, however, often stem from the victim printer's inadequate screening methods when choosing a recruiter or headhunter.

"You really have to get a recruiter who can get inside your head, and who understands what it is you want to do, your culture, what you're looking for, the kind of people you get excited about and the kind of people you don't ever want to see," notes Pam Coats, senior vice president of employee relations at AdPlex (Houston). AdPlex, a 440-employee full-service printing provider, began working with recruiters when it experienced problems finding qualified applicants.

"We came across positions that, no matter what we did, we could not fill," Coats explains. The positions were mostly managerial but also included pressroom. Applicants were not only scarce, but sometimes came with employment baggage. "Good managers have jobs, and they're not looking," the exec observes. "If someone on that level is looking, there are usually history and issues." AdPlex relies on its recruiter, Graphic Resources & Associates, Inc. (Marietta, GA), to thoroughly research and screen applicants before a resume is even forwarded. But, "there's no such thing as a perfect candidate," admits Jeff Goro, Graphic Resources' CEO. "Our job is to find people who fall into a certain category of qualifications."

The recruiter qualifies candidates based on whether they have the exact background and experience level required by his clients. Because its customers are paying for this service, Goro says Graphic Resources won't refer an applicant who does not meet these criteria-a hallmark that any printer should demand of its recruiter to get the best ROI.

This screening process requires excellent communication between the client, the recruiter and the candidate to ensure a good placement. "It's not like selling a printing press," Goro says. "The company has to be happy with the press, but the press really doesn't care where it's sitting. We're in the business of satisfying both the buyer and seller."

Consider soft skills Technical knowledge is often ranked as one of the most important, if not the most important, qualification for many printing jobs. It's obvious why: A candidate with a working background in his or her trade will demand less training and guidance from management and co-workers. Candidates with extensive technical training and hands-on experience can fall short in soft skills, however: managing and dealing with people.

"The ability to get a group of people to do things is much more difficult to find than technical skills," explains Rineman of Sheridan Press. "We can hire technical resources much easier than we can the management and leadership resources. In one case, we took a bindery employee and put him in charge of prepress, and he turned it into a very efficient organization." Rineman has placed managers three times into prepress without an appropriate background, and all were successes because they had the right managerial aptitude.

Even a prepress position-which demands someone well-versed in a variety of layout and graphic design software, color management, scanning, trapping and more-needs to have good people skills. In some cases, these can outweigh the importance of technical smarts.

"Good attitude and trainability are in some cases if not equal to, then more important than, experience," notes Clint Funk, president of Funk & Associates (Chicago), a digital prepress workflow, training and marketing consultancy. "Not only are printers manufacturers who apply ink to paper, they also have to educate their customers. It is hard to find someone who's technically adept, has good people skills and can explain to a customer, 'You didn't quite build this properly. Here's how you should do it,' in a nice way that doesn't offend anyone."

Funk recommends asking prepress candidates how they would communicate the mechanics of a problem file to a client. If he or she cannot explain the problem without using a lot of technical jargon, then you can be guaranteed that this candidate will confuse and frustrate your clients.

Perceptions There is a shortage of qualified help, but this supposed "shortage" may be due more to a printer's way of qualifying job applicants or ineffective recruitment methods than to an actual lack of worthy applicants. Before submitting that next "help wanted" ad, consider that in the next few years, the job market isn't likely to get any better. Rather than using conventional recruiting means, try thinking out of the box-your results might surprise you.

Perhaps no position has caused so much pleasure and pain to printers as sales. If you have a terrific salesperson, terrific customer relations and profits can soon fall into line. If you have an ineffective salesperson-or an empty sales position waiting to be filled-your entire business can be put on hold as you scramble to accommodate neglected clients and lagging cash flow. Unfortunately, sales candidates are also one of the most sought-after recruits in the graphic arts industry-and the most misunderstood.

"What many printing companies want in a salesperson is someone who has worked in their particular market, has been working for a competitor and has been successful in selling a million dollars' worth of print," notes Jeff Goro, CEO of Graphic Resources & Associates, Inc., a graphic arts recruitment firm in Marietta, GA.

These printers may be assuming that selling ability and professional chemistry are transferable. They may think a salesperson's clientele from the previous employer will loyally follow him or her to the new position.

In reality, however, such devotion is rare. "A salesperson gets hired, and all of a sudden the printer thinks, 'Wait a second-they said they had a million dollars' worth of business. They hardly brought anything at all!'" offers Goro.

A common, though not necessarily wise, practice-stealing the competitor's salesperson-can undermine any respect your competitors might have had for you. There's also the loyalty factor: "Someone who'll come to your company from the competition, obviously for money, would also leave you under the same circumstances," warns Bill Farquaharson, a former printing salesman and president of digital printing sales consultancy Print Tec Network, Inc. (Duxbury, MA). "It does help to have a knowledge of the industry, but I don't think it's necessary to steal the competition's sales rep. It develops animosity, and that's not healthy."

Farquaharson suspects that many printers are placing too much emphasis on a salesperson's background, and not enough on his or her potential. He advocates a focus on soft skills rather than printing sales experience, including good listening skills, a consultative selling technique and computer literacy. Perhaps most importantly, the ideal applicant has to have attitude and confidence that she or he has the best product and the best employer around.

Similarly, printers recruiting sales candidates should practice a similar swagger: "'We're the best. You want to work here. We're successful. Come be successful with us,'" Farquaharson offers. "You're positioning your company to be a desirable place to work."

A good resource for printers faced with recruitment and hiring decisions is "Hiring & Managing for the 21st Century Print Shop," by Noel Ward and Jill Cohen Walker. Published and sold by the National Assn. for Printing Leadership (NAPL) (Paramus, NJ), the 186-page book examines the challenges to recruiting, interviewing and hiring salespeople, managers, prepress and graphic design technicians, customer service representatives, press operators, finishing and binding employees, and support staff. The book also offers sample interview questions, job application forms and performance reports.

To order the manual, contact the NAPL at (800) 642-6275, or visit Cost is $74.95 for NAPLmembers and $99.95 for nonmembers.

Following is a list of recruiters with experience in the printing industry:

Beaver Personnel (New York City). Phone: (212) 243-5540; e-mail:

Excel Associates (Cordova, TN). Phone: (901) 757-9600, ext. 109; e-mail:; website:

Gibson Executive Search (Belleville, IL). Phone: (618) 233-0700; e-mail:

Graphic Resources and Associates (Marietta, GA). Phone: (770) 509-2295; website:

Graphic Search Associates (Newtown Square, PA). Phone: (800) 342-1777; e-mail:; website:

PrintLink (Rochester, NY). Phone: (800) 867-3463; e-mail:; website:

PrintStaff International, Inc. (Boston). Phone: (877) 377-4687; e-mail:; website:

Twin Oaks Team, Inc. (Raleigh, NC). Phone: (919) 870-5737; e-mail:

Check out these American Printer articles on recruiting and hiring employees. Most are available at

* "Printers cope with tight labor market," June 2000, p. 13.

* "Hiring the best person for the job," June 2000, p. 82.

* "Tell me about yourself," June 2000, p. 91.

* "Finders keepers," August 1999, p. 26.

* "Keeping the upper hand," January 1996, p. 26.