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!
By Frank Burgos
I recall reading several years ago that the top three most stressful jobs, at the time, were:
Effective supervision relies on special skills we don’t necessarily learn at press. They are “people” skills, not technical. A good supervisor is a good listener, offers constructive criticism, trains employees, and manages processes. He or she is calm, self-confident, optimistic, honest, self-disciplined and self-motivated. They can also take constructive criticism. They’re tough, but fair.
Not all good press operators will end up supervising a pressroom. Not all good press operators should. Yet, one of the most common misconceptions I hear in a pressroom when a supervisor position opens is that the best operator should get the job. Sorry. Not always. Not usually.
Now, for the operator that comes to the table with the right stuff for supervising, there may still be some hurdles. Here are a couple to remember, if you plan to be a supervisor, someday:
Fraternizing with your coworkers, while an operator, can end up causing you challenges if you get the supervisor position. You may have socialized with peers after work, spoken poorly about management and ownership with others, or otherwise have compromised the credibility and respect you’ll need to lead the people you’ve fraternized with.
If you have not been professional by focusing on your work and work habits, the transition can be painful, if not impossible. It is difficult to supervise folks when you’ve been fraternizing and otherwise not comporting yourself with the demeanor of a supervisor. They’ll remember “the old you” and you will, too. Leading and disciplining them will be tough, tough, tough.
Another hurdle can be your attendance. If your attendance record is less than pristine, you may get passed up, even if you otherwise qualify to supervise. Supervisors are needed on site, every day, the whole shift, and should be ready to stay late, or come in early, if necessary, especially during off shifts. If your record doesn’t prove you’re flexible and dependable, forget it. The company will be better off with a less competent, but more punctual supervisor. Supervision is serious business; only the serious need apply.
There are many potential challenges and pitfalls to becoming an effective, confident, happy supervisor. I wanted to share a couple that stand out in my mind because most things one can learn or recover from, but personal behavior and reputation are a different matter. If you have your sights on supervision, keep your nose clean, so to speak, and demonstrate a superior work ethic.
Being a supervisor and growing as a supervisor is a unique and enriching and rewarding job. If you’ve done it well, for a while, you’ll automatically be respected wherever you go, just because of the way you carry yourself. You’ll feel different. You’ll feel like a person worthy of the responsibility of leading people and helping them grow. I can think of few greater rewards.
So, go ahead and be a supervisor; but be ready.
By Frank Burgos
Something happened to me yesterday that got me thinking about my paradigms.
I have had the same wooden desk for almost 30 years. It’s old, but it functions beautifully. I love my desk.
I am very clever. I keep my desk organized. Most of the time, I can put my hand on anything on my desk, with my eyes closed. I have optimized it for efficiency, or so I thought.
I was organizing it yesterday and picked up my stapler in the process. It’s a nice, professional, robust stapler. It’s shiny. I keep it in the exact, same place. I love my stapler.
In 2005, I started going paperless. By 2006, my business and personal document workflows went completely paperless. I have not used my stapler, since. Yet, there she sits, on my desk, shiny because I don’t touch it. It has occupied valuable real-estate on my desk for years and years. I do not feel so clever, now.
It sits in my office closet, now. I think I can manage the walk there, every five or six years that I need to staple something.
I’ve heard it said that pigs don’t know pigs stink. This thing with my stapler got me thinking; What other things am I not aware of? How can I put myself outside of myself to see my situation differently? It’s a new mantra.
What are the paradigms in your world? What, in your pressroom, are you not seeing? Can there be different, better ways of doing any of the many things that are done in your pressroom?
Make that your new mantra.