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A Graphic Challenge

Developing a Digital Workforce

By Barbara A. Pellow

Every graphic communications business owner knows that hiring the best people for their organization is critical to long-term success. Yet most still manage their staffing processes and resources on the basis of quickly filling a vacant position with perceived skills rather than clearly identifying talent requirements for a particular position. Interestingly, research by the Recruiting Roundtable shows the production of a star performer can be up to three times that of an average performer, while the true cost of a bad hire can be twice their salary. Because the effects of new-hire quality are compounded over time, the quality of a hire can have a substantial impact on an organization.

Today’s graphic organizations are confronted with three unique challenges—a technology shift causing hiring needs to focus on knowledge workers versus production-oriented workers; attracting talent to a perceived non-glamour industry in an improving economy; and employee retention for highly qualified technical and selling staff.

First, there has been a dramatic shift in technology for our industry. When digital technology changed the world of graphic communications, printers suddenly became graphic communications service providers or marketing service providers. New global competitors emerged via the Internet. Web-to-print became a staple in the market and customers started demanding partners that could deal with the world of multi-channel communications. The requirement shifted from hiring production workers to seeking knowledge workers. In a recent staffing survey performed by InfoTrends in which graphic communications firm owners were asked about their most critical hiring challenges, the following four responses were given: getting good salespeople who understand digital and consultative selling; moving toward applicants with programming or systems backgrounds versus graphic arts backgrounds; finding forward-thinking people who are willing to step up to a challenge; finding personnel who understand print and variable data as well as the importance of customized communications to marketing executives.

Second, economic conditions are suggesting another year during which the global demand for talent will exceed supply. 24 million people are expected to exit the labor pool by 2010. By 2008, it is expected that ten million more jobs will be available than workers to fill them. The already difficult task of recruiting top talent is being compounded by a war for talent that is unprecedented in recent times. The nation’s workforce is aging, there is an ongoing shortage of skills, and global competition is increasing—all these forces promise to significantly diminish the availability of high-caliber workers. This picture gets worse when you consider the decline of knowledge workers. According to the U.S. Department of Labor, 75 percent of future jobs will be knowledge-based, yet in the next decade, 70 percent of the workforce will not be college graduates.

This directly links to the third challenge, which is a focus on employee retention. Once you find that talented employee, there needs to be a strong emphasis on retaining the skills. Unfortunately, this has typically not been an area of focus for most graphic communications service providers. Employee retention in today’s market takes more than mere salary. Studies conducted by Hagberg Consulting and The Concours Group found that employees stay with a company that lives up to its promises; offers training and development; is open and inclusive; confronts conflict constructively; promotes confidence in the management; offers the opportunity to work on projects that contribute a value to the business; and recognizes employees.

Companies that only focus on financial results were found to be demotivating to their employees. Employees felt that this placed a great deal of stress on them and ultimately prompted them to seek a better working environment.

The double-digit growth firms in the world of graphic communications have taken a five-step approach to building the right workforce.

1. Position Your Firm to Attract the Right Talent

Firms are repositioning themselves to attract the kind of talent that will help them build a graphic communications or marketing services business for the future. To attract the right people, your company needs to stand for something while having a clear vision and mission. People want to work at a company that they can be excited about. Daytona, FL-based DME positions its firm as a "high-tech Direct Marketing Experience" with extensive multi-channel marketing capability. Corporate Press in Landover, MD tells prospective employees, "Corporate Press is the employee-owned flagship of the print communications companies. We are a solutions provider of graphic communications, which includes customized direct-mail pieces, corporate newsletters, and our newest eCorporate printing solutions."

2. Clearly Define Essential Skills and Build Job Descriptions

Next, you need to have a crystal clear idea of what you’re looking for. In InfoTrends’ recent staffing survey, of 18 firms surveyed, only two had formal job descriptions in place. If organizations focus their staffing efforts more on quality of hire, good job descriptions are essential. The first—and most critical—step is to accurately define and prioritize those factors that constitute superior performance in the subject position. To do this, hiring managers and recruiters must be able to easily access and review the performance records of employees throughout the organization who have clearly demonstrated success and apply these findings to create a profile of the model candidate. Having detailed profiles based on prior success in the positions being filled saves valuable recruiting time while greatly reducing the risk and cost of bad hires.

3. Develop a Combined Build Versus Buy Talent Pool

Graphic communicators need to decide on the right blend of build versus buy for staffing. In our fast-paced industry where the business environment is changing rapidly, it takes time to train and build the required talent. In these situations, companies are more likely to buy the required talent. While buying talent has time-to-market advantages, you risk being unable to find the right talent at the right time, which can increase operating costs. Building talent in-house is often cheaper, and it saves labor costs in comparison to the buy option. Companies that implement building strategies often hire a lot of fresh college graduates, have an extensive training program, make/encourage employees to have a career plan, and have a mentor program for all employees. The most successful firms are building human resource processes that provide a mix of buy talent and build talent strategies. This creates a unique set of advantages by providing lower costs and helping to retain existing talent. It gives businesses future bench strength to deal with future attrition.

4. Develop a Structured, Proactive Recruiting Process

Successful firms don’t recruit talent reactively; they always have a pool of candidates to choose from because they have a structured recruiting process. While this may not be a full-time job, an individual is typically identified that has responsibility for recruiting. Their focus is establishing a network in key skills areas nationally; leveraging the college campuses and career fairs; providing a combination of college and high school internships for early talent identification; continually seeking qualified candidates via Internet recruiting services; networking via associations in segments where you need talent; and providing referral incentive for current employees.

5. Retention Program Starts the Day the Employee is Hired

Managers readily agree that retaining your best employees ensures customer satisfaction, product sales, satisfied coworkers and reporting staff, effective succession planning, and deeply imbedded organizational knowledge and learning. The retention program needs to start on the very first day that the employee joins your company. Critical components in today’s market for retention include employee understanding of what is expected from him or her every day at work; quality supervision; talent and skill utilization; helping employees grow and learn and grow in their careers, knowledge, and skills; recognition; and communication.

While these don’t seem like difficult things to consider in the relationships with employees, they have become a forgotten art in our fast-paced business environments.

Find the Time
Most senior managers in graphic communications firms are overworked and time is a precious commodity. Most cash-sensitive small companies don’t want to hire new people until it’s absolutely necessary—or more likely, until it was absolutely necessary about a month ago. This mismatch means that by the time the organization has decided to add someone, the hiring manager is even more overworked than usual and can’t find the time to go through the whole process of job definition, recruiting, interviewing, and training. The overriding message to graphic communications firms is that now is the time to break the cycle. With needs for new high-tech skills and a scarcity of qualified labor, it is time to make the new hire process your first priority. The short-term pain in the form of less output in exchange for longer-term gains of leverage and increased responsibility is well worth the effort.

Apr2007, Digital Output

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