By Sal Sheikh
As new technologies dominate our lives—digitizing everything from how we receive and share news to our jobs and the tools we use in the workplace—print continues to bring value and inspiration to our digital realities.
Although the rise in digital platforms and capabilities would seemingly drive out the need for traditional printing services, changing consumer expectations and the nuances in how today’s brands engage with audiences call for an even stronger integration of print and digital. In fact, Canon U.S.A.’s 2019 Print for Action survey found that seven in ten Americans rely on a mix of print and digital platforms related to all aspects of their daily lives, from work and education to purchasing decisions and leisure activities.
The survey notes that the evolution has helped to fuel the industry’s slow but steady growth since 2011, and 2020 is already presenting new challenges and opportunities to continue momentum into the next decade. The changing market requires not just an adoption of new capabilities, but also a readied workforce with the proper skills to thrive.
So how can printing professionals keep business booming in the face of ongoing transformation? The future of the industry depends largely on the ability to meet the heightened expectations of millennial and Gen Z consumers, and ensuring their preferences are reflected in the print materials they engage with on a daily basis—whether it’s the advertisements they see on their commute to work or the plethora of labels and packaging that grab their attention while shopping.
For those of us in the business, it means we must evolve our capabilities and cultivate the next class of print professionals to deliver the services and the customer experience that up-and-coming generations value most.
Print Design Skills Enhance Personalization
As personalized print services continue to be a key business driver, leaders increasingly rely on designers who bring print messaging to life through tangible outputs. A subset of graphic design, print design encompasses a specific set of skills that conceptualizes and produces outputs to be printed on various materials such as plastic, cloth, ceramics, and even wood.
Looking ahead, offering in-house print designers to collaborate with clients and serve as a trusted partner in the creative process will be a key differentiator for print shops, allowing them to remain relevant and demonstrate their commitment to staying one step ahead of the trends that are transforming the industry. To capitalize on this artistic side of the business, it will be critical for print leaders to begin investing in the proper training for employees today, helping them cultivate these technical design skills that can then be applied to diversifying their portfolio of print offerings—everything from posters, book covers, and greeting cards to textiles, catalogs, and product packaging.
Soft Skills Drive Firm Results
While the importance of technical skills cannot be overlooked, equally important in today’s competitive environment are soft skills. Realistically, technology will continue to streamline workflows and costs, continually redefining the hard skills needed. That’s not to say that craftsmanship will no longer be valued—but it means service will become that much more important. It’s not just our industry experiencing this shift; a 2019 study by NewVoiceMedia, Serial Switchers Swayed by Sentiment: How Bad Emotive Customer Experiences are Costing Brands Billions, showed that poor customer service is costing businesses more than $75 billion a year—a staggering figure that has steadily increased over the past few years.
More than ever, professionals that show strong emotional intelligence, aka “people skills,” are rising to the top as customers seek out more personalized experiences. For the printing industry especially, one of the most important soft skills needed is time management. Today’s on-demand market means turnaround times are tighter than ever and customer expectations are high. Print professionals must be able to juggle and prioritize multiple projects and hit deadlines—all while effectively communicating to clients. The fast pace also requires flexibility and patience, as every client and situation will be different. Like hard skills, these attributes should be fostered as part of ongoing training to ensure employees have the proper mix of emotional and technical experience.
In-House Training Drives External Success
For decades, the printing industry has been a craft industry where employees learned the necessary skills through formal apprenticeships or vocational courses. This led to limited-responsibility positions where employees would operate on one piece of equipment and not necessarily receive exposure to other areas of the craft.
Fast forward to today, many of these courses and programs have become outdated and obsolete due to the influx of new technology. Now, with virtually all print providers employing digital equipment, employees should be well versed across traditional equipment as well as relevant emerging technology.
Adopting new print services such as three dimensional printing, smart labels, and quick response-embedded codes, for example, requires the proper education and training. In response to these integrations across the workplace, print providers should prioritize in-house trainings and ongoing workshops that will continue equipping staff with the right tools and knowledge to fully develop and refine the required skillsets to compete in today’s print environment.
Redefining Print’s Path Forward
Many print providers and employees operate with a single approach mindset—traditional print for the win. However, with new technologies continuing to move the industry forward, today’s leaders need to keep a pulse on how employees are faring in comprehending, adopting, and executing digital print capabilities. Keeping momentum requires a healthy balance of both digital and traditional print, and it all starts with prioritizing these essential skillsets for an empowered workforce. dps
Sal Sheikh is the VP of marketing, large format solutions, Canon Solutions America.
Mar 2020, DPS Magazine