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Grow Your Own by Frank Burgos

Three weeks from posting this article, I’ll have been a flexographer for 39 years. For about 20 of those years, it has been my business to help employers and employees meet. I can’t recall a time when there were enough flexo press operators. This industry has grown and continues to grow at a pace faster than people become operators.

I’ve had conversations with many company owners, managers, HR people and operators about this. Often, I tell them “flexo operators don’t just fall off trees” and suggest that they consider “growing their own.” Start with a solid individual and train them to print flexographically.

Employers search outside of their regions because there aren’t enough qualified operators within them. It’s the obvious and necessary choice for acquiring talent immediately. However, I explain that, even if the employee’s performance is as hoped, operators hired from far away may return to their hometown, especially if they have ties to it, such as family and friends. In fact, my observations have been that there’s a good chance they will. And if things don’t work out, the employer might feel a personal commitment to the operator that can cloud decisions and actions on discipline, including termination. The employee may feel stuck in an unhappy situation which, besides being unfortunate for the individual, can impact performance. It can become uncomfortable or untenable for either or both sides.

An alternative is to find local individuals that are otherwise qualified and train them to become excellent operators. Such individuals would demonstrate good work ethic, including attendance, punctuality, flexibility, and have solid, positive references. They would demonstrate comfort with basic math, know how to measure, have mechanical aptitude, which can be tested, and satisfactory color vision, which can also be tested. They would also appreciate and take advantage of continuing education in their new craft. or, they can part ways if things don’t work out, with fewer unrelated factors to consider.

While the benefits of growing your own flexo press operator are many, I understand that it may not be an option for you. Some situations demand hiring someone that can start printing effectively right away or hire no one at all. Training an inexperienced person may not be compatible with your production requirements. But, if you have not already considered it, you might want to. As urgent as the situation might be to find someone experienced, hiring an operator is a long-term decision with long term consequences. Hiring and training local talent may pay off for you, bringing large dividends in the long term.

If you also find that flexo press operators don’t seem to just fall out of trees, consider growing your own.