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The Fine Print: Let's talk about tees!

How to Hire and Retain Awesome Screen Printers for your Custom T-Shirt Printing Business

If your custom t-shirt printing business is successful, hiring excellent staff is going to be critical to ensure your continued success in the future. While screen printing techniques can be taught, it takes a lot of time and patience to train a total novice. Screen printers with years of experience can also present challenges if they are not willing to adapt to your print shop’s style. Retention of trained staff is an important aspect of running a successful print shop. Turnover can be stressful and ultimately, if it’s high, it can be very damaging to your business if you can’t get orders out of the door. Here are some of our tips on the hiring and retention of screen printing staff we’ve learned over 14+ years in the custom t-shirt printing business.

Clear guidelines – Hiring any new employee will require that you define their duties well. Simply putting out an advertisement for a screen printer is not enough. If you have a small shop you might need someone with varied talents like the ability to burn a screen, mix PMS colors, mechanical capabilities for fine tuning or repairing a press, and some logistical knowhow for shipping. It’s not fair to expect that level of experience without communicating that in your advertisement. A well thought out advertisement will save you time as well because you’ll hopefully get less inquiries from people that do not fit your requirements. Having clearly developed expectations will help you when it comes to the interview because it serves as an agenda for the interview process.

Questions for the interview – Interviews can be exhausting for both the interviewer and the prospective candidate. Having the questions you want answered formulated on paper will keep you on track for time. Ask detailed questions rather than those that only require yes or no answers. If you’re not sure how your questions will be interpreted, ask a current employee to answer them as you have them written. You may even ask your candidates to perform some sample work. If you’re looking for experience with a wide variety of printing techniques, ask them to identify instances when they performed them and give you details of the kinds of challenges the techniques present. This will weed out anyone that’s simply saying yes hoping to figure it out on the job later. Ask them what ink brands they prefer for specific jobs and why. A screen printer with a lot of experience will likely have distinct opinions and will be glad to share them. If you’re looking for a progressive minded screen printer, ask them what industry magazines or blogs they subscribe too. What was the subject of the last tutorial or industry video they watched? Ask them what was their finest screen printing moment or project. Stick to the same set of questions for each interviewee rather than winging it. This will allow you to make a fair comparison when reviewing their answers and weighing the pros and cons of each applicant.

Consider company culture – Many custom apparel printing business owners don’t even think about whether an applicant will fit in with the established culture of the shop. This is an extremely important aspect of the hiring process because it will dictate the likelihood of retention and cut down on the churn and burn of employees which is also stressful to fixed staff. It’s hard to get a sense of someone’s personality during a brief interview so we recommend asking personality questions about hobbies and interests. Also ask how they’ve handled stressful situations specifically by relating to you the entire scenario. Other good questions to ask are how your former employers would describe you, and how would your friends describe you? You may find that one candidate with potential and a winning personality is more attractive than a skilled worker with lackluster or questionable personality traits.

Creativity versus Expertise – Are you looking for someone that can also assist and make recommendations with designs? Creativity is a talent one either possesses or does not. It’s not something that can be trained. It’s a conundrum many screen printing business owners will face. If you need someone that can quickly make decisions about design, it’s better to hire someone with a strong designer portfolio than a technical screen printer. You can train them on the technical aspects on the job. However sloppy is very hard to correct, because sloppy often means indifference and that’s not a trait you want in your shop to spread to other employees. Expertise absolutely has its value but you’ll have to decide which is the most beneficial for your business when making your final decision.

Include others – It’s very common when hiring to have 1st and 2nd interviews when narrowing down a new screen printer for your staff. But it’s increasingly popular to interview with a panel. This can simply be you and your most trusted employee. Having another person’s perspective on the candidate is helpful for any clues you may miss.

Retaining your staff – It’s very frustrating to spend the time and effort to train employees simply to have them walk off the job to take their talent to your competitor. How do you retain good screen printing professionals and make them loyal to you? Keeping morale high is one of the best ways to retain employees. This can be done in a variety of ways like contests with rewards, Beer Friday’s, company lunches, etc. It’s also important they understand what expectations you have for them. They can’t do a good job at something if they don’t know it’s their responsibility. Feeling like they’ve failed at something can be very demeaning and low morale can end up costing you money and business. Set a time for reviews at the beginning of their employment and don’t forget to actually perform them as promised so they don’t feel in limbo about their career. If you sense they are frustrated in the meanwhile, take the time to speak with them one on one. You may find out that it’s something that’s easily remedied. If someone’s done an outstanding job, let them know it. It’s a very good for morale when other employees see their co-printers efforts to do right by the business are noticed and appreciated.

Relax the Iron Fist – If you’re like most screen printer business owners, you started out by being everything. Screen printer, designer, sales person, customer service person, and marketer. But as your business grows, it’s impossible to be all of those things. If you’ve hired experienced screen printers, let them show their skills and methods. Listening to others ideas and implementing them as shop policies also does a tremendous amount to make your screen printers feel empowered to make snap decisions in instances of crisis. What if you’re sick or out of town? Professional screen printers need to feel that they make valuable contributions to the growth and expansion of the business.

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