FTA Emerging Leaders Committee Member Matt Furr on Being a Millennial in Flexography

FLEXO: One of the biggest takeaways from the FTA Generational Study was a large majority of students studying package printing—83 percent—felt completely unprepared for a job. How did you feel when you started at your first job?

Furr: My first job with Esko required knowing many industries and knowing how our products fit the needs of each particular industry. I spent a couple of months shadowing other trainers to learn our software and how it applies to folding carton, tag and label, flexible film, corrugated, and sign and display market segments.

It took me a long time to have a seasoned answer to customers’ questions about how these systems are being implemented in the rest of the industry. That feeling of unpreparedness stems from simply not having the industry experience to see how best practices are executed in the field. I think that’s an unavoidable part of most jobs.

FLEXO: What do you think is the biggest misconception about young people in this industry?

Matt at the 2015 Technical Association of the Graphic Arts (TAGA) Conference, giving a presentation on his graduate research into the color stability of 7-color process printing in comparison to 4-color when building spot colors with process inks.
Photos courtesy of Matt Furr

Furr: People who have been working in printing for decades often think young people devalue their experiential knowledge in comparison to technology capabilities. We cannot automate a process without first understanding the logic behind the decisions of the operator while performing their tasks. I learn something new every week I’m working through these processes with our customers.

FLEXO: Much is made of the age gap in the workforce, and the friction between younger and more veteran workers. Is there any truth to that?

Furr: I really haven’t seen much friction between younger and veteran workers. Every week I’m working with different customers who have purchased a new solution or product. The biggest difference I see is openness to change. Younger workers are often more accepting and open to changing their standard procedures, whereas veteran workers are comfortable with their current processes.

FLEXO: Do you think young people are more attracted to the design and prepress world than they are operating a press?

Furr: Yes. Younger generations have grown up in and feel more accustomed to a digital environment.

FLEXO: What can human resources managers and company executives do better to attract young talent to their organizations?

Furr: I don’t think HR managers or company executives really have to think outside the box to hire young talent. Millennials—along with any other generation—want retirement investment options, college savings plans and upward mobility. My generation has a reputation for job hopping and I think this is attributed to the variety of options and structure available in the job market. Even more so, I think it stems from people who aren’t challenged enough in their current role looking for new opportunities that will help them develop their skills and knowledge. Companies should work with their younger talent to develop a career path for them.

While Clemson equipped me with a technical foundation, my internships enabled me to put that knowledge into practice in both environments.

FLEXO: Why is it important for young people to stay connected to peers of a similar age through groups like the FTA Emerging Leaders Committee?

Furr: Networking is a skill that you will need to harness in business and in your personal life. A large part of the FTA Emerging Leaders Committee is to pass on the knowledge that has been gathered from experienced professionals. These exchanges about the tips of the trade help each of us to continually learn and develop in our careers.

FLEXO: Any advice or words of wisdom for any young flexographers reading, or students studying flexography and package printing?

Furr: There’s nothing wrong with feeling content. It’s something we all strive for in life. However, do not allow yourself to become complacent. Always strive to continuously learn and develop your skill set.

The FTA Emerging Leaders Committee brings together young flexographers to participate in problem-solving work groups, tackle unique projects on an as-needed basis, network with peers, gain an inside look into FTA structure, and have an opportunity to serve the profession in a leadership capacity in the near future. To join, contact FTA Director of Content & Digital Strategy Brad Pareso.