By-lined to, Ayman Ali, Senior Marketing Manager at Canon Middle East

Now is an important time for the print industry. It is a time of change where new and emerging technologies are influencing its future. The print industry is unique and has developed over many years, transitioning from analogue to digital technologies, but there’s still so much more to come. For it to continue to grow and transform, we need fresh ideas and out-of-the-box thinking. One way that we can support this growth is by attracting the next generation.

Print to you and me is a range of innovative applications that we interact with in our daily lives. However, print to someone who is not aware of its full creative potential could be seen as just a book or a poster you put up on your wall. Those who are not a part of this industry don’t realise what ‘print’ encompasses – everything from a calendar to instruction manuals, from wallpapers to window graphics. In fact, everything you read that is not on a screen (besides a handwritten letter) is printed. But if this is the perception of print, then how do we attract new and young talent to fuel future innovation?

Print is more than just a word

We know that print is rapidly advancing due to new technologies such as automation, augmented reality, and robotics, and it’s these additions that present opportunities for new talent. However, print is NOT a commodity for most –over 60 per cent of consumers don’t go for the lowest cost supplier and over 80 per cent of the buyers have stayed loyal to the same print provider.

‘State of the Middle East Print Industry Study’, a research which Canon conducted in 2020 in association with ME Printer stated that around 75 per cent of buyers want their print supplier to be more consultative, but fewer than 20 percent say their PSPs deliver this service. Further, 80 per cent buyers want more information on new approaches and innovations, which suggests that there is little interaction when it comes to ideas and suggestions.

In order to attract the future workforce, we need to re-look at the term ‘print 'and what it actually means. For me, the word limits the scope of what print stands for - it’s purely the output of what we do. And it’s impossible to encapsulate what our industry can do with just one word.

The magic of the industry is the end-to-end journey behind it including software, hardware, finishing etc. It should be positioned as a creative technology industry and this is what we need to highlight in order to attract the next generation.

Young people today are digital savvy, having grown up with smart technology at their fingertips. Some of them see print as old-fashioned and not ‘sexy’ like the digital. Around 35 per cent users tend to move towards digitization while 30 per cent feel that printing in offices will increase. Moreover, 25 per cent believe that digital will take over in the office,

So, we need to combine print with new technologies that they’re au fait with - and perhaps that they wouldn’t necessarily relate to print - in order to appeal to them. We need to speak their language and show them the strong role that print has to play alongside these digital and virtual platforms, and how they can be part of its exciting future in bringing the two together.

Attracting the future print workforce

There is a perception outside of the industry that print is dying, so why would a beginner want to work in what appears to be a doomed industry? What they don’t realise is that there are so many opportunities for growth – it is not a dying industry, but one that is constantly evolving with a huge creative and technology innovation potential.

Print accounts for one third of the communications budgets of companies, which makes it clear that brands still value print. Despite the trend in favour of digital marketing channels, 30% of the customers expect print to retain its importance or become more important in the next few years.

This boom in the print industry is much higher than the global mean for growth in print revenues, which sits at 0.8% per year for the current decade. Print revenues in MENA is poised to grow from $26.8 billion in 2017 to $40.7 billion by 2022. This represents a year-on-year expansion of 8.7%, reflecting the increasing value and greater per unit price of printed products.

One of the things I noticed when beginning my career in print is that it offers a scope for variety, bridging the gap between popular career choices such as technology and marketing. My background is in mechatronics engineering and I’ve been able to transfer these skills and apply them to new digital print technologies such as robotics and automation. Today’s digital printing devices integrate significant levels of automation to control virtually every aspect of production, thus changing the skill sets now required to operate these machines.

As a product manager for cut-sheet toners, not only do I need to understand the technology behind the performance – but also how to explain this technology in terms of benefits to the customer – who in this case is the print service provider - and the customer’s customer - the print buyer. And this is where the skills I have developed through achieving a Master of Business Administration (MBA) degree have helped in my conversations with customers to explain how to sell and market the technology as well as the role that print plays in helping them to grow their business.

There are so many different career avenues within the print industry where such skills can be deployed. Creativity and design, data analytics, technology, engineering, business development, customer loyalty, marketing strategies – whatever their skills, they could find a match within print.

We need to explore more engaging ways to relate print to younger generations’ hobbies and interests. Take someone who is interested in sports, for instance. They probably don’t know about all of the huge opportunities in print at just one sports stadium – from tickets to flyers to graphics. If they have a passion for fashion, they could get involved with fabric printing or textile design.

Or perhaps one young individual is considering a career as a data analyst. They could be the brains behind a revolutionary software solution that integrates brand customer relationship management systems with print.

Love to travel? With a calendar of global print and packaging exhibitions and customers located around the world, there is plenty of opportunity to explore new cities and countries.

The onus is on us, the print industry and large vendors, like Canon, to lay it out in front of the younger generation. We can attend trade fairs, work with colleges and universities and even send personalised print directly to their doors. We need to be in front of them to show them what print is capable of; demonstrate how they could be part of this evolving industry and how they can contribute to the future of it.

The State of the Middle East Print Industry Study, also revealed that brands continue to favour print’s value, despite the trend towards digitisation. The EMEA-wide Insight Report reinforces this confidence in print as a creative, authoritative, and trusted medium.

In the wake of COVID, PSPs have a clear opportunity to highlight print’s USPs (unique selling points) and emphasise that it can be cost-effective, fast to market, agile, responsive and ultra-targeted. Print has become even more relevant as people choose to break people away from their screens and cut through the digital fog.

Innovate with new talent

Time and time again, I’m told that I’m still ‘new’ to the print industry, whereas, in any other workplace, three and a half years isn’t considered a short period of time. This demonstrates that it’s rare for people from other industries to start working in print and proves the need for our industry to cast the net wider when looking for new talent.

The advantages for hiring from within our industry are clear – people know the markets, competitors, and the technology. However, all this knowledge is not out of reach. We can help teach new recruits and the good news is that younger generations are quick to adapt. We need to begin imparting our knowledge to help build the print generation of the future.

Top business challenges include non-existent financing options as highlighted by 64 per cent of the respondents of Canon’s Insight report . Supply more than demand is another major challenge, according to 51 per cent of the participants. Around 45 per cent of respondents highlight lack of regional insights on opportunities. Only 21 per cent feel digitization trends are a major challenge.

We know that it’s a combination of people and technology that bring about change and innovation. Technology is rapidly evolving, so now is the time to integrate new talent with new ideas and perspectives to not only enhance digital print technology, but to also evolve print’s role in the future.

The benefit for us? They will bring innovation and fresh ideas, which will help us change our ways of working, for the better, and position print as an exciting medium that won’t be disappearing anytime soon. Now is a time to be a part of this creative technology industry and re-shape its future.

Canon’s Aktashif competition is a firm example of how we can showcase innovation and new ideas to the next generation. The competition seeks to provide a platform for the youth to discover new talents and launch their creative careers in printing and other creative sectors in the region.

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