Millennials & Flexography: FTA Generational Study Is a Crystal Ball into Our Industry’s Future

Stop me if you’ve heard this one (or all of these) before:

Anna Lox is a college senior studying graphic communications. She earns A’s in all her classes, gets involved in extracurricular activities and is an all-around strong student. Anna shows great promise as a future flexographer, accenting her curriculum with every available opportunity to gain industry exposure—spending time using an actual press, reading FLEXO Magazine, competing in the Phoenix Challenge College Competition. Prospective employers take notice, reaching out to Anna as she shakes off any signs of senioritis.

Graduation day comes and Anna, clad in her cap and gown, struts across the stage to receive her diploma. Her parents cry tears of joy from the third row, beaming with pride at their little girl’s bright future.

And then Anna takes a job as a graphic designer at Target.

Cal Ibration earned his degree in graphic communications a few years ago. In the time since, he has bounced around at a handful of companies, getting real-world experience on the pressroom floor mounting plates, handling job changeovers, swapping consumables and the like.

A position for which Cal is suited opens at your company, and he comes in for an interview. Asked about his seemingly flighty employment history, he explains the quick succession of opportunities were too important to pass up, as they gave him on-the-ground insight into specific areas of flexography, so he could get his feet wet and learn as much as possible. He’s interested in joining this company for the long haul, focusing on advancing internally and becoming a part of the organization’s culture.

And then, six months later, Cal takes a job the next town over and gives his two weeks.

C.M. Whykay works in human resources at a flexo printer. He has a job opening for an entry-level press operator but has had difficulty filling the position. Several recent college graduates have come in for interviews; each has had high grades and, according to their professors, shown promise.

However, each has also been unable to answer questions about specific aspects of production: What are your procedures for controlling inks press side? How do you achieve an optimal kiss impression? Describe how you communicate with press assistants. If a customer has a problem during approval, how do you deal with that?

The position remains open for months, until finally the HR director above C.M. finds the perfect candidate: Three of the company’s existing press operators, among whom the responsibilities of the unfilled and now abandoned position have been divided.

How does a fact come to life? If a friend says to you, “All the best prepress designers have blue hair,” that doesn’t make it a fact—it just makes that person sound like a lunatic. But what if two people tell that to you? Or three, or four? What if you actually encounter someone who is fantastic at prepress design and in fact does have blue hair? At what point do you go from, “My friend does not know what he is talking about,” to, “My friend might know what he is talking about!”

So odds are you have heard one or more of the previous scenarios from a friend, or a friend of a friend, or a friend of a friend of a friend, or whatever you consider a LinkedIn contact to be. Maybe you’ve even experienced one first-hand—maybe you are that friend of a friend of a friend.

But does that make them universal truths? Are all the Millennials who are going to school to study graphic communications steering clear of flexography? Are they job-hopping every few months? Are they lazy and addicted to their smartphones and flighty and self-obsessed? Are some of them all of these things? Are all of them some of these things? Are any of them any of these things?

These are the questions FTA set out to answer nearly a year ago with its Generational Study, a comprehensive investigation of the flexographic industry’s youngest members (those ages 35 and younger) designed to figure out who they are, what they think, how they feel and where they want to go in their careers. The study also sought input from students, to see what they’re majoring in and why they may feel reluctant to enter the industry.

And while this younger generation will someday outnumber and replace the “seasoned” workforce already staffing FTA member companies, that day is neither today nor tomorrow. Mindful of that, the study also posed questions to non-Millennials, to gauge their opinion of the group, how they fare in their interactions, and examine where the two generations differ and where they have common ground.

All of it is in service of answering one question: Who is the next generation of flexographers?