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‘Skills shortage’ is something we’re hearing a lot about – the blame frequently blamed on Brexit. But with this shortage applying to mainstream job roles - such as electricians and mechanics - where does that leave an industry that requires a more niche skillset? Paula Thirkell of Ambitions Personnel steers you in the right direction.

Recruiting is one thing. Staff retention is another. If you have trouble with one and/or the other these tips - from Paula Thirkell, print and packaging recruitment specialist and business development manager at Ambitions Personnel - could prove very handy!

1. Insider dealing

Business-critical roles that need filling quickly and recruiting into higher-tier, niche roles can be time-consuming. But often, with a little bit of cross-training, you can fill the gaps internally  – and perhaps do so without having an ambitious member of staff leaving a damaging hole in the business to boot. 

The more multi-skilled your workforce is the better contingency you have for coping with leavers. 

2. Attracting fresh talent

This has to start from the ground up - including how job adverts are written to appeal to the right audience. The big brands/names may be able to simply post a job advert and get candidates flocking, but with the print and packaging industry being so niche you need to be more creative and thoughtful of how you candidates. Something like: “Does the prospect of abseiling down skyscrapers for a living excite you? You could be our new graphics Installer. Apply now.” It’s punchy, interesting, and challenges the idea of what it means to work in the print sector!

There is also a need to get into local schools to promote print as a career option. I worked in this sector and didn’t have a clue about what the role was all about until I attended my first interview. That’s bad practice, and it’s the job of the recruiter and employer to make sure that job adverts are clear and easy to understand. 

3. Location, location, location…

You know it - if you’re in a geographical area saturated with competitors searching for staff in similar roles you’re going to have to do something to get an edge. So, is it worth considering looking outside your area to bring untapped talent in? If so, think about what you need to do to attract them. Of course an attractive salary and benefits package is usually enough to catch the eyes of the best of the best.

4. Have structured and transparent pay grades 

Try not to get into a bargaining war on salary or hourly pay. If you feel that you need to pay more to attract talent, try to keep consistency with your existing staff. Don’t be tempted to offer a knee-jerk package to a favoured person to get them to start - chances are they will leave you when a higher offer comes along from somewhere else.

5. Invest in training 

Training is often overlooked, yet it can be key to good staff retention. Look at professional bodies offering accredited courses that carry some weight within the industry. 

Employers often worry about the time lost to training but employees who are developed and feel that they have these opportunities will be more inclined to stay with a company. Many training providers can build a bespoke course around your own business to ensure it’s relevant and much of the content can be achieved on-site. 

6. Help realise dreams

Through the use of regular reviews, you can quickly identify those employees who want to progress. If they feel there is a natural route through the company, they will strive to exceed expectations. It might be that they join you as a print finisher but are keen to understand the product in its entirety from artwork to a printed product down to their own interests. This person may further down the line become your technical salesperson who will win you the big business because of their ability to know what works and what doesn’t for your clients. 

The worst thing you can do is see your employees as expendable. Just because someone joins your company in a small role, that doesn’t mean that they want to stay there. Everyone has ambitions, and it’s the employer’s role to help people realise those ambitions. 

7. Think outside the box 

Advances in areas like textile print have led to something of a skills gap - especially on the finishing side. It can be easy to look at the industry and see a lack of new talent, but not if you ‘think outside the box’ and consider transferable skills from outside the print sector. 

What matters is how the skills learned in one sector may apply to another. For example, if the print role is client-facing, a previous role in a retail position could have transferable skills. Need a keen eye on detail? A previous job working with complex numbers and figures could fit well. It’s all about keeping an open mind. 

8. Be brand aware

Especially important for lesser-known companies, brand awareness can make a big difference in your recruiting fortunes. It’s a simple fact that people want to work for companies and brands that are household names. While that isn’t an easy feat for every business to achieve, spending time promoting your brand goes a long way. Or indeed, promoting the brands you work with/for.

Attendance at trade shows often focuses on winning new business but they should be used as a networking opportunity too. Meeting your competitors and your customers face to face in the same room is invaluable. You get a hint into what the competition is doing, while also learning how customers react. If you can make sure that your brand stands out amongst the rest, you’ll have a good chance of attracting the best talent. 

9. Culture, perks and benefits 

Hiring costs money, so staff retention should be right at the top of any company’s agenda. Know hen that many job candidates we see are no longer just interested in salary - they want to know what else their employer can offer them.

One of the easiest ways to retain staff is to create and nurture a positive company culture. People should be proud to work for you and be happy to stay. If that culture is backed up by a strong set of work perks, for example, a paid gym membership, free fruit Fridays or flexible working, it becomes much easier to retain staff. 

10. Tell it as it is

There are those who think that print is dying. You need to challenge that understanding and show that it is a thriving sector that is constantly evolving. Use your most impressive case studies and name-drop big brand names where you can to prove it!