Will you need to add employees to your operation this year? As industry veterans start to “age out” and retire, many document operations executives face the challenge of replacing experienced managers, supervisors, and machine operators with new faces.

It will not be easy. According to Printing Industries of America (PIA), a majority of printing companies estimate 30%-50% of their skilled workforce will retire in less than 10 years. How will you replace all that talent?

Those of us with a long history in the business know that working in printing and mailing operations can be a rewarding experience, but younger people just beginning their careers don’t share our enthusiasm. Many of the people you’d expect to fill roles in your document centers aren’t terribly interested in physical mail. Millennials are in their early 20s to late 30s now. Will you be able to convince them to join your staff?

The post-Millennials were all born after 1996. They may be looking for their first “real job,” but they’ve been told all their lives to concentrate on science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM). The smell of ink and the sound of paper snapping through the folder/inserter probably doesn’t turn them on like thoughts of working for Google or Facebook.

The “Help Wanted” sign will not do it anymore. Companies in our industry must be more strategic about how they attract talented individuals who can help them function efficiently through the next decade.

Accentuate the Positive

The document business has plenty of technology, but we haven’t done a great job at promoting industry advancements in areas like data analytics, automation, and omni-channel communications. People outside the document business only consider the end products. They aren’t thinking about all the steps that precede physical production, which involves some interesting technology. When recruiting younger workers, it might be smart to emphasize your workflow’s reliance on software, technical processes, and data analysis.

Techniques like artificial intelligence (AI) and augmented reality (AR) will be more common in the document business in coming years. Those are areas that will interest recruits as you look for ways to keep your business relevant and growing while the technology in our industry continues to develop. Enthusiastic new employees comfortable with these concepts can future-proof your company and give you an advantage over the competition.

Finding Entry-Level Workers

Print and mail companies could benefit from partnering with local high schools, junior colleges, and community organizations to create courses and apprentice programs for students. Only 60% of high school graduates plan on attending four-year universities. That leaves a lot of students who will be looking for work after finishing high school. Try approaching this group to fill openings for equipment operators, warehouse staff, or in-plant machine maintenance people.

Consider an outreach program to connect with school guidance counselors. Educate them about the future of printed communications and help them understand our industry has plenty of career opportunities for their students. Set up facility tours or create informational content school officials can distribute to interested students.

Government Assistance

The U.S. Department of Labor recently announced $150 million in grants for apprenticeship programs in fields including advanced manufacturing, which should cover document print and mail. Local governments may also be willing to partner with you to help provide employment opportunities for their citizens, but you must go to them and ask.

Everyone worries about issues like lowering print volumes and rising postage costs. The biggest business risk though, could be the impact of losing experienced workers as they retire and leave your company. Start planning now on how you’ll staff your business over the next five to ten years. Invest in the future by developing a strategy to attract and develop the skilled staff necessary to keep your business thriving.

Mike Porter at Print/Mail Consultants helps document operations build and implement strategies for future growth and competitiveness. Learn more about his services at www.printmailconsultants.com. Follow @PMCmike on Twitter, or send him a connection request on LinkedIn.