Careers in decline: Transitioning from prepress and printing jobs

Prepress and printing jobs are likely to grow scarce – however, the specific skills of these technicians are transferable and in demand for several other industries and positions.

Although the Bureau of Labor Statistics predicts that 9.8 million jobs will be added to the American economy by 2024, this statistic doesn't guarantee that all job sectors will grow. For example, prepress technicians, printing press operators, and print binding and finishing workers aren't so lucky: jobs in this field are expected to decrease by 25 percent over the next seven years. While there are always many factors that explain why a particular sector of the economy is shrinking, increased digitalization (ebooks, online newspapers, etc.) and online advertising have endangered many roles in the printing industry.

Jobs in Flux: Prepress Technicians and Machine Mechanics

Consider mechanical repair jobs

Prepress technicians and print binding and finishing workers perform tasks that are very similar in many ways to machinery mechanics. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, industrial machinery mechanics and machinery maintenance jobs are projected to grow 16 percent, much faster than the national average. As machines become more and more sophisticated and automation in manufacturing grows more prevalent, there will likely be a higher demand for maintenance workers to ensure that all of those automated machines are running smoothly.

Machine mechanics have to be knowledgeable about production processes, which print workers are undoubtedly familiar with (albeit the processes themselves are different). Printing press operators are responsible for monitoring machines, preventing or fixing jams and other problems, and knowing their machines inside and out to anticipate issues before they occur, not unlike the expertise required of machine mechanics. And like most printing jobs, machine mechanics spend a lot of times on their feet and working with their hands. In other words, though prepress technicians and printing press operators would need to retrain in order to become machine mechanics, they already possess many of the underlying skills required for those positions, giving them a leg up.

Assembly and fabrication

Although automation is disrupting jobs across many industries, assembler and fabricator positions are predicted to remain consistent (or even grow) in quantity between now and 2024. Fabricators and assemblers essentially put together parts to make a finished product, usually some kind of large machine; they need to be able to read and interpret schematics, follow assembly directions carefully, use tools in tandem with different parts, and perform quality control inspections upon the completion of each task. These tasks echo what print binders and finishers already do—they use fine tools to bind paper materials, carry out quality control checks, and package and label their final products.

Luckily, despite a growing dependency on automated machines and technology, automation will never fully replace in-person tasks, such as those performed by assemblers and fabricators, because many products still require human precision to assemble—complex electronics or medical devices, for example.

As demands and conditions in the job market shift, it's important not to throw in the towel just because your industry or position is changing: keep in mind that many of the skills you already have are still useful, they just might be in another field. Prior work experience in an industry is always relevant and helpful, but be creative when thinking about where you can apply your more general skills. Just as some industries and job sectors are shrinking, others are booming and set to expand—clean energy and medical devices are two examples. Thinking outside the box and being proactive will help you make the career change you deserve before the market forces you.