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.
By Frank Burgos
On Sunday mornings, I slow down a little. I read, have coffee, and take time making myself a nice breakfast. It’s a little ritual. A meditation.
In the kitchen, I practice “mise en place”, a French term used by chefs, and I gather all the ingredients and tools I’ll need before I crack the first egg. I want to focus only on cooking. I want the cooking process to flow smoothly. I want everything ready when I need it, where I need it. I don’t want to be stressed. I’m not on a make-that-breakfast-in 15-minutes-or-you-will-die cooking show.
This past Sunday, it dawned on me that 'mise en place' is like having resources ready in advance of a job set-up, except we printers use the terms “staging” or “pre-make-ready.” The meaning is the same: Have everything ready.
When things are where they need to be, when they need to be there, in the condition they need to be in, job set-ups proceed smoothly. There’s no panic; no haste; no forgetting details. The quality tends to be on the better side of what’s possible and more consistent. More product flows through the press every month.
But, when an operator gathers materials, blends ink, mounts plates, etc., as part of setting up a job, the experience is often quite the opposite and can even erode morale. I’ve done it. It feels like all you can do is never enough, because the press is down while you’re preparing.
Not all shops can afford to have staff dedicated to ensuring that everything is always ready in advance for operators; especially smaller shops. However, the benefits can be significant. As your business grows, put in place a metric that indicates when the time is right, or re-evaluate from time to time, whether it makes sense. As soon as it does, pull the trigger. Time spent by supporting staff members should translate to press running time that more than makes up for the additional labor and gets more product out the door.
I enjoy my Sunday breakfast ritual, and as much as I love printing, I’d rather be fishing. But when I print, setting up a job that has been staged, achieving excellent quality immediately, running the job at top speed and feeling great when the whole job comes off, without a hitch, is as satisfying as a difficult, wonderful job gets.
When the time is right... relax. Print like a chef!