Commercial Printing’s Aging Workforce: It’s Not Somebody Else’s Problem to Solve

Printing Impressions Magazine recently ran an article highlighting that recruitment, retention, and training of the future workforce has been consistently identified as the No. 1 issue facing the commercial printing industry. 

The article points out that  36% of printing employees are at or nearing retirement age.

Heeter was featured in the article as an innovative printer that is actively working to identify and hire more workers to meet its growing needs.


For many printers, the need to be proactive about their workforce development is driven by competition, as well. For Heeter, a Canonsburg, Pa.-based printer that offers commercial printing, direct mail, and fulfillment services, this is not just competition from other printers, but from gas and oil companies.

Heeter apprentices Arch Sideris and Dan Hecht are learning the printing trade, which will give them the opportunity to pursue a rewarding, well-paying career.


“Everyone is clamoring for skilled labor,” notes Kirk Schlecker, president of Heeter, which is located in the heart of Marcellus Shale country. “Many of the young talent in our local workforce grew up in a culture where you automatically go to work in gas or coal. When we are looking for someone who is mechanical, it’s difficult because printing doesn’t have the profile that these other industries do.”

Takes Years to Train Lead Press Operators

Difficult or not, Schlecker says, non-action is not an option. “I say that knowing that our staff is actually younger than most,” he says. “Ten years ago, most were around 30 years old. However, one quarter of our workers are 10 years away from considering retirement. It takes years to train lead press operators and other highly skilled production operators. We have to be looking ahead — now — about how to fill those positions.”

Like many of his peers, Schlecker knows that Heeter’s biggest selling point is the company itself. To cultivate that pipeline of future employees, his team works with local high schools and community colleges to bring students in for company tours. Students whose interest has been piqued can apply to participate in a work-study program as part of their high school educations or, after graduation, apply for its apprenticeship programs online.

Laura Schlecker, owner of PeopleFirst HR Consulting and Heeter’s human resources consultant, manages these programs. “When students come in, their eyes go wide,” she says. “They see the how clean the plant is, and all of the technology. They are amazed by the level of automation of our presses, including our Heidelberg Speedmaster XL 105 sheetfed offset and Ricoh VC 70000 high-speed inkjet web.

“It is completely different from their expectations. Plus, they are surprised to learn that, just out of high school, they can be making really good money,” she stresses.

Heeter’s apprenticeship program is designed to let students know that the company is offering more than just a job. “We offer the opportunity to be creative, be a “maker” of things, and provide a long-term, highly satisfying career with high growth and income potential,” Laura Schlecker adds.

Heeter has been recognized as one of the “Best of the Best” status Best Workplaces in the Americas program.

Although its workforce development efforts may take a while to pay off, Kirk Schlecker does not see investment in workforce development as optional. “We didn’t start this to fill a job,” he says. “We did it to start a pipeline. Otherwise, our labor pool is going to run dry.”

Reprinted from Printing Impressions.