Job Losses in Prepress

by admin on September 29, 2009

Jeff Lazarus points to a tweet by the Dr. Joe Webb saying that the printing industry (in North America I assume) has lost 78,900 workers in the last 12 months, 4900 in the last 30 days.
Sorry I looked for the original source on the Whattheythink web site but didn't find. But Webb is a reliable authority (as opposed to other bloggers like yours truly that don't exactly make things up but are too tired at night to do full-scale fact checking).
Note that's for printing, not for prepress. And honestly, printing covers a WIDE variety of jobs. You've got the counter people pushing business cards at Walmart, and the prepress workflow integrators putting in a VLF with fully digital workflow at a book printer: Who lost their job?
Mind you our little corner of the world is smaller than you think. How many of those printing jobs were in the prepress area? Perhaps not that many. I'm also curious to see how prepress can get downsized anymore. I can't speak for all of North America, but I know of a few shops in Vancouver where prepress is down to.... one person. So if that person calls in sick, there are no plates (unless somebody has been cross-trained). If that person wants to go on vacation, then they have to bring in somebody.
Interesting times. Yes, the company is leaner and meaner but also more fragile. I wonder how long it will be before we start seeing media articles about "the shortage of skilled workers in prepress."


Jeff Lazerus September 29, 2009 at 10:02 am

I like to get the data, before it gets me. I was talking to a Digital Printing manager, a former electronic prepress operator and manager, and he told me the same story you told here and that I’ve heard and seen repeatedly: their EPP department USED to have 20 people, now they have six. The department I worked in 10 years ago with 10 people over two shifts has two today. AND, those operators are supposed to be more productive now than they were ten years ago, thanks to more automation and files that are “cleaner”. A big part of our job was fixing files, now most content creators can make a semi usable PDF. What we previously corrected on the film or in the file, whether it was color or font corruption or whatever else, is frequently handled more smoothly on the rip. The Mac I used to write a postscript file used to bog down, so we’d send a ps file and go hit another job on another machine. Now, if you look away for a second, it’s done and gone and already imaging. 1 person can now do the work of ten. A former manager of mine was complaining that prepress people today are just computer geeks, we have no “eye” and we aren’t craftsmen. This same manager was responsible for replacing the jobs of five veteran guys, craftsmen all, with one guy and some automation.

I’ll write a longer follow up post about the employment situation on my blog. Thanks for reading, DJ!

Joe Webb September 29, 2009 at 11:27 am

Greetings and pleased to offer documentation… the employment data are from the Bureau of Labor Statistics for NAICS 323 Printing and Printing Services (NAICS is the industry code assigned to commercial printing). The data come out every month, the same day when the unemployment rate is released.

I’d like to recommend this post I made about the shift in workers in print and content creation. Enjoy!!

Tele2002 September 30, 2009 at 12:05 am

Although the numbers seem pretty high, the shift in technology and final delivery requirements for the customers means that a lot of these people will re-train…. One reader Twittered this “The Graphical industry is going down. See:” which I believe is a complete misrepresentation of what has been said here. But what we are seeing is the craftsman, the experts, the people with the skills being pushed out of the industry for cheaper labour, this labour does not have the grounding in the technology or processes that we were taught. Does this matter? Good question, since us skilled workers have spent our lives automating and improving the processes to take the skill or the craft out of it.
The industry has been cultivating for a few years now and I think it is not far off being able to lay new seeds to gain new roots for the customers requirements.

Mark Jetzer September 30, 2009 at 4:57 am

Yep, most prepress departments are smaller. We tend to manage to the lowest need, then have the CSR, Sales, Pressroom complain when the workload gets an up tick. Happens to me all the time, just enough people to get by, then WHAM! But then again all we do is hit Command-P.

There is a major issue brewing with talent. Yup, automation and “clean” files are blessings, but what do you do when something breaks or is out of the norm?

Tele2002 October 1, 2009 at 9:38 pm

Hi all, just got this email with a youtube link and have to share it with this thread!

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