14 December 2022


The number of skilled tradespeople working as printers dropped by 73% between 2006 and 2021. The pandemic is likely to have worsened the problem.

Figures from the Office for National Statistics (ONS) have shown alarge fall in the number of industry workers classed as skilled print workers over the past 15 years.

These skilled workers - pre-press technicians, printers, post-press workers, and print machine assistants - fell in number from 112,300 in 2006, to just 30,500 in 2021.

Research showed that printing’s 72% fall was significantly more dramatic than any other trade - with the next fastest decline being that of cobblers at 62%, then welders at 59%.

This decline is also markedly more severe than that of the print and packaging industry’s employee population in general, which shrunk from 151,000 to 105,000 in the same period, according to a BPIF analysis of the ONS figures.

Kyle Jardine, the BPIF’s economist and Northern Ireland manager, called the fall in skilled labour - a drop of 73% compared to the overall fall in industry headcount of 30% - “a fairly dramatic reduction in numbers.”

He said, however, that the statistics were collected in 2021 during the pandemic - so the real number of print operators may be closer to the 2019 total of 50,300.

Between 2006 and 2019, the UK’s skilled print worker population shrunk by 55%.

Jardine added: “Undoubtedly increased automation and reduced machine manning levels have been significant factors during the 15 year period from 2006 to 2021.”

The automation of the industry likewise helps explain the shift from a predominantly skilled production-floor workforce within the industry, according to Brendan Perring, the IPIA’s general manager.

Charles Jarrold, CEO of the BPIF, also commented: “I suppose the backdrop for that period is the structural change in communications with the introduction of the iphone (2007) and the coming of the internet age.