Apprenticeships address ‘urgent need’ in the print solutions industry

Transformative training

Heidelberg Apprentices training at its Print Media Center outside of Atlanta, Georgia. (Photo by Heidelberg USA)
Heidelberg Apprentices training at its Print Media Center outside of Atlanta, Georgia. (Photo by Heidelberg USA)

Printing equipment manufacturer Heidelberg is bolstering its push for apprentices in the U.S. The call for new talent comes as many U.S. companies struggle to find workers, and the country saw record employee quit rates in recent months.  

Yet, perhaps surprisingly, Heidelberg’s apprenticeship program hasn’t been particularly affected by the current overall climate, said Service Skills Development Manager Rogers English, who manages the apprenticeship program. “We’re only looking for people who really want to work.”

Rogers English, service skills development manager, Heidelberg

Heidelberg’s U.S. apprentices train at the company’s U.S. site in Kennesaw, Georgia, and typically go on to field technician jobs in their home areas, English explained. However, finding people with the right competency who embrace the travel inherent in field technician work is a hurdle. “As our industry evolves, it has become more difficult to find qualified technicians and skilled operators,” he said.

Retention has been “less than average,” he also reported. “It’s not always easy to find that talent who will stay with you. In addition to an identified mentor for each apprentice, now we have an entire team of people who monitor the progress, qualifications and the mentoring of apprentices.”

Kyle Wilson was hired as a Heidelberg apprentice in 2020. (Photo by Heidelberg)

English communicates with colleges around the country, aiming to give presentations on apprenticeships to their students and graduates. Social media, job networks such as Indeed and ZipRecruiter and referrals from existing technicians provide additional recruitment channels.

Heidelberg has been hiring individual apprentices since 2007. At the end of 2020, the company began recruiting in more significant numbers. English says he has nine in the program now. Heidelberg aims to hire an additional 25 people in the U.S. over the next two years. Candidates need to apply by the end of May, and the program starts in June.

In Germany, Heidelberg brought on over 120 people to start training at one of the company’s four sites in fall 2021. Heidelberg USA is part of Heidelberger Druckmaschinen AG, with headquarters in Wiesloch-Walldorf, Germany.

Passionate advocate

Fellow print solution outfits manroland Goss web systems and Koenig & Bauer also have apprenticeship efforts in Germany, Europe’s largest printing industry site and a country noted for its emphasis on apprenticeships.

“We do not offer apprenticeships in the U.S. at this time, but we have discussed the necessity to do so in the future as our workforce ages,” Jason Elliott, vice president of sales, Americas, for manroland Goss web systems, told Editor & Publisher (E&P). “We are also looking at options for pulling young technicians from the few trade schools that exist and developing them from there.”

Elliott said manroland Goss, headquartered in Augsburg, Germany, and with U.S. headquarters in Exeter, New Hampshire, is proud of the active apprenticeship program it runs in Germany. “There is a relationship of these young apprentices to the North American market as they do support our domestic customers in the field alongside our U.S., Canada, and Mexico technicians,” he said.

Elliott is a tradesman printer, with six years of formal education and practical experience at the Oamaru Mail newspaper, in Oamaru, New Zealand. “I am a huge advocate of the apprenticeship system and especially of countries that did it the right way by ensuring apprentices were developed by a structured program to develop specific competencies and not just cheap labor,” he said.

He’s advocated at industry conferences and in his roles at manroland goss to develop industry personnel, regardless of formal programs, to grow interest, retention and passion in the industry. “As a trainer from manroland, I watched how powerful the professional development of operational personnel was to improving equipment performance and developing passion and motivation to be better within their roles,” he said. “I’m very passionate about this.”

Big opportunity

Koenig & Bauer’s apprenticeship program was launched five years ago; it’s a collaboration between the company’s North American and German operations. In Germany, the company has headquarters in Wurzburg; U.S. headquarters are in Dallas.

“With the labor shortage in America, particularly from a mechanical and electrical standpoint, we have gone out to two-year technical colleges and looked at students in automotive, wind and energy, aircraft maintenance, or general mechanical skills. We’ve educated these young individuals on the printing industry,” Eric Frank, senior vice president of marketing, explained recruitment.

“We present them with how big it is, how we’re larger than the video industry, larger than the music industry, and the benefits of working in the printing business, whatever segment you may be in, and then we take them and send them to Germany over an 18-month period,” he said.

“It’s very common to have these apprenticeship programs in Europe,” Frank added.

Kaitlin Sullivan is a trained electrician who graduated from the Koenig & Bauer apprenticeship program. (Photo by Koenig & Bauer)

Koenig & Bauer aims to recruit four people per year into the program and works with Texas State Technical College and other schools to meet that goal.

To recruit in worker-challenged times, “we’ve incentivized them even greater,” Frank said, making the program more lucrative as the company competes with airlines and automotive companies, which also face shortages.

“We’ve given them some opportunities to travel, which is most interesting for some people, because in other industries you may be fixed in one location. We have multiple manufacturing facilities throughout Europe, and we have, of course, customers throughout North America. So, between financial incentives and the ability to have greater experience through travel, we open their eyes to why they should stay in the printing industry,” he said.

Apprentices can land in jobs with annual pay in the $50,000 to $60,000 range — more, with overtime, he said.

An urgent need

For every 10 people at graphic communications firms, almost four were projected to be age 55–64 by 2020, according to a survey report published by the Graphic Communications Workforce Coalition.

All employees, in thousands, printing and related support activities, seasonally adjusted. (Source: bls.gov)

“With a well-known shortage of skilled labor across the entirety of the U.S. workforce, printing companies and manufacturers are desperate to replace their very experienced, specialized workforce,” according to a Heidelberg press release.

“This is not an issue that can be fixed overnight,” said Cedric Muenzing, vice president of lifecycle operations for Heidelberg USA, in the release. “It takes commitment from companies like Heidelberg in training and helping our industry move forward. It can be difficult recruiting in this particular field, but we’ve taken great steps in ensuring competitive pay and benefits along with growth opportunities for all who are hired into our program.”

“It’s an understatement that the need is urgent for a new generation of skilled professionals in the printing industry and beyond,” Muenzing said. “We are committed to identifying and training individuals who are good with their hands, don’t mind getting dirty, and enjoy working on equipment — even with no previous print experience — to learn and develop with Heidelberg and gain true comprehension of our technology and state-of-the-art equipment.”

The Heidelberg program runs two to three years, starting with training at the company’s Print Media Center outside of Atlanta. It’s the largest printing demonstration facility in the U.S., Heidelberg boasts, and one that just got a new director, Jeff Powalisz. The training covers every operating, electrical and mechanical function on a Heidelberg press, along with pneumatics, software and application, or type of job and press run.

Apprentices are paid through the training period and get per diem for travel and food, their own set of tools, and the ability to qualify for a company-paid car. After passing a final exam, apprentices begin as trained service technicians specializing in one of Heidelberg’s product areas and have the opportunity for long-lens career growth within the company.

To be accepted into the program, candidates must be at least 21 years old and have basic mechanical repair experience and familiarity with mechanical tools. Electrical aptitude is a plus.

Upcoming print events

Looking forward, a live industry trade fair drupa is set for May 2 to June 7, 2024, in Dusseldorf, organizers tell E&P. The in-person National Leadership and Skills Conference will return June 20-24, 2022, in Atlanta. The event had previously happened in Louisville. At the Las Vegas Convention Center, an in-person Printing United Expo 2022 is scheduled for Oct. 19-21, 2022.

Mary Reardon is a writer and editor based in Wisconsin.


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