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20 October 2022 by News

Tackling skills shortages in the printing sector

The latest employment figures indicate that unemployment is at its lowest level for 50 years in the UK, with more vacancies being advertised than there are candidates to fill them. On the face of it, that seems like a rosy picture, but the printing industry, like many others, is suffering from a lack of skills, as one generation retires and the next looks elsewhere for opportunities.

We are fortunate at Herbert Walkers that, as a family business with a long history dating back more than 75 years, we have a loyal staff of skilled people who are not only good at their job, but also share our values of quality and customer service. We also have a track record of family members following each other into the business and recommending us as a place to work. But sustaining our workforce of skilled and dedicated people is not just about rewarding loyalty; it also involves looking to the future and considering where our pipeline of skills will come from.

Training the next generation

At Herbert Walkers, we believe that investing in the next generation of skills means training the people we need, in line with the services we offer customers and the increasing capacity of our print factory.

This approach has a number of benefits. Firstly, it ensures we have the right mix of skills within the business at the right level. Our trainees not only learn the skills they need to do their job, but they also learn the bigger picture of what we do across the business. As a multi-disciplinary printing business that offers a wide variety of printing and finishing services in-house, we work collaboratively across departments and it’s important for each member of the team to understand the importance of their role within the bigger piece.

Recruiting trainees also enables us to select the right kind of people – benefitting from the personal qualities and positive attitude that you can’t teach, while nurturing the skills and abilities you can. When we train our own people, we can develop their skills in the right way, avoiding any bad habits people sometimes pick up along the way.

Creating trainee opportunities also ensures that our business continues to deliver social value for our local area. Most of our employees live within a short distance of our Yorkshire HQ and we have members of the team whose families have worked at Herbert Walkers for generations. For us, it’s important to keep building on that legacy and investing in enabling meaningful and rewarding careers.

Our current cohort of trainees

At the moment, we have four trainees within the business, Ross, Kieran, Daniel and Ethan. Ross is working with our folder/gluer team and is already running our Heidelberg Diana line and producing some excellent figures. Kieran is running our Bobst 104 die cutter, having spent a period of time working with one of our more experienced operators, who is moving towards reducing his working hours.  Daniel has adapted really quickly to working in our die making department, running our Hurco CNC machines. Finally, Ethan, who has been with us for the shortest length of time, is learning to operate all four of our Bobst foiling and embossing machines.

Each of them had an induction when they first joined the company to help them learn about different departments and take on low-skilled duties while their training brought them up to a competent level. While none of them are on a formal apprenticeship programme because there is nothing available that matches our needs, all of them have a structured training plan in place, which is managed by an experienced member of the team and monitored by the leadership team.

Leveraging experience and valuing expertise

One of the ways in which we maximise the value of the experience on the Herbert Walkers team is by tasking current, experienced and skilled operatives with training new people. This means that we know our trainees will take a best practice approach (because they are being trained by the best in the business!) and it helps to build trust and collaboration between team members.

As experienced operatives near retirement, our policy is to allow them to reduce their hours if they want, in order to keep their skills at Herbert Walkers, while allowing them to work and live at their own pace. Part of our training approach is to use the knowledge and experience of those who have been with the business for decades to help to train the next generation.

Sustainable skills

We cannot take a trainee from new recruit to experienced operative overnight, and sometimes we do need to recruit a skilled person who can hit the ground running. However, we believe that training new entrants to the industry is the only route to sustainable skills, not only for our business, but also for the entire print industry.

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