5 Reasons People Are Leaving the Print Industry
And what can be done about it
As much as it may hurt to acknowledge, people are leaving the print industry—at least in the United States. For example, the number of US workers employed in the “printing and related support activities” sector—which prints products like newspapers, books, labels, business cards, stationary, and business forms—dropped 30% from 2008 to 2018 (from 626,457 people to 438,516).
|Number of US Workers Employed in the Printing and Related Support Activities Sector
(by Firm Size/Number of Employees)
|Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics (2008 and 2018)|
There’s reason to believe this number is even lower in 2022, given the employment trajectory as well as the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic. Below, I will discuss five key reasons people are leaving the print industry as well as what can be done to retain workers.
1. The Impact of Digital
Digital workflows are overtaking their printed counterparts. Today, a former colleague told me that her company, which designs and produces training materials for clients, has seen print volume of these materials decline over 50% since the start of COVID. Trainings are more frequently taking place online (on platforms like Zoom); when they are in person, fewer print materials are used.
The company has switched from using a large industrial-sized printer to a smaller MFP that “anybody can really use,” as she put it. While this friend technically still works in the print industry, designing a mix of digital and print materials for clients, the impact of the decreased print volume from her company as well as other companies digitizing their products and services can be felt across many categories of print—impacting print industry employment levels.
2. An Aging Workforce
According to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the average age of workers in the “printing and related support activities” sector is 49 years—which is a few years older than the average across sectors (42). For different reasons, younger people are less likely to enter this field, which results in workforces with a bit more gray hair.
When these individuals do retire, their positions aren’t necessarily getting filled. Whether their jobs have been replaced with automated systems or it is too difficult to find a qualified replacement, many companies are placing greater reliance on technology and more efficient processes to get more done with fewer bodies.
As costs for manufacturing and employment have risen domestically, many print companies have moved some or more operations (with the most obvious manufacturing) abroad to save money. And furthering this dynamic, customers are increasingly comfortable purchasing from international sources—whether it be a unique Etsy shop or a software company offering an affordable print management solution.
Lower-cost options abroad are certainly putting pressure on US print industry employment, especially when it comes to countries like China and Thailand where wages are dramatically lower. That said, recent supply chain issues have shined a light on some of globalization’s drawbacks.
The print industry doesn’t necessarily offer the highest wages in the technology sector. According to the BLS, the average earnings in the “printing and related support activities” sector are $26.82 (as of January 2022).
While this pay is higher than the average hourly wage in the leisure and hospitality ($19.44) as well as retail ($22.52) sectors, it is lower than all other major sectors—including transportation and warehousing, education and health services, manufacturing (which includes printing and related support activities), construction, wholesale trade, mining and logging, professional and business services, financial activities, information, as well as utilities.
The print industry has a bad rap when it comes to sustainability. Use of paper and ink are often considered bad for the environment (not to mention the extra energy and bigger footprint tied to print devices). While print companies have taken many steps to lower the environmental impact of their technologies, this message doesn’t always get communicated to the public.
With young people particularly concerned about sustainability and environmental impacts, the questions associated with print may steer them away from a career in the industry.
Keypoint Intelligence Opinion
Print industry professionals may find this blog post a bit negative for their liking. But the reality is that to improve things, one must first acknowledge what can be improved. While our industry can’t counteract the large-scale economic and technological forces that are driving workers away from the print industry (and work/employment abroad), there are things it can do. These include:
- Ensure print solutions integrate with digital
- Expand products and services beyond print
- Focus on recruiting and retaining young talent
- Increase salaries and benefits when possible
- Improve sustainability efforts and messaging
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