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Marshall Atkinson

Is It Time to Rethink Your Hiring Strategy?

Having a hard time finding the right people? Here’s some guidance.




AS A COACH for the decorated apparel industry, I field questions from my clients and other shops continually on one topic these days – hiring. If you are looking to fill a position right now, you know what a tight job market we are currently facing.  

At this writing, the unemployment rate is 3.9 percent, which is about the lowest it has been since 2000. This means that finding people, even for entry-level positions, is tough. Need a production manager, seasoned creative artist, or press operator? Good luck, especially if your shop isn’t located in a larger city with a deep well of talent.

When it’s difficult to find the right people for your shop, it’s time to rethink your hiring strategy.   

Start With a Job Description

Sounds easy enough, but you would be surprised at the number of shops I talk to that have never written job descriptions for their businesses.  

Define the minimum qualifications needed for the job. List what the employee will be doing all day. Think about a pay range. Map out how people advance in your company. Specify who this person will report to every day.

If you can’t articulate these basic facts, then it’s no wonder you can’t find the right people. A well-written job description gives you a starting point when you want to list an opening on a job board, promote it at an employment fair, or discuss it with a recruiter. Job descriptions should really be mandatory in your business. 


Pay Attention

Are you aware what other shops near you are paying for the same position? Why would someone want to come work for you if they would be making less? Although it’s true that people normally don’t leave their jobs over money, they surely don’t start one with the idea of going backward.

You need to be competitive. Sure, it sucks that labor is your biggest outlay of cash, but without people, nothing happens. It might be time to raise your starting pay rates to attract new blood to your company.

Also, don’t always think about employment expense (or investment) in terms of the paycheck amount. Do you offer healthcare? More vacation days a year? Bonuses or other carrots you can dangle? 

Multi-Direction Recruiting

Think beyond placing an ad on a job board somewhere. Just as the techniques for driving sales have changed in today’s market, there are also new strategies for recruiting people to become part of your shop family.

Use social media to its fullest advantage. I’ve seen some creative social media posts from apparel decorators to promote open positions – things like videos of shirts being printed, followed by a screen with information about the job. These are posted on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and LinkedIn to spread the word.

Another great tip is to use referrals. Someone on your staff probably knows a friend (or a cousin, nephew, ex-girlfriend’s sister, etc.) who is looking for a job. I’ve had great success generating referrals by using a 90-day hiring bonus, which gives $250 to an employee who refers a candidate, if that new hire makes it to 90 days. Just pin the hiring notice on the employee bulletin board in the breakroom, and the next day you will probably have a stack of resumes. Everyone wants to work with their friends; it makes the day go by faster.


Government agencies can be another potential source of help. Depending on where you live, there may be job training programs that offer partial or full compensation for a new employee in exchange for the training and skills you provide. The potential employees may come from a company that shut down, a military veterans group, or a halfway house.

People need jobs, and they want a career. It might pay off in the long run for you to talk to government agencies in your area about starting a program like this. 

Use a Recruiter

Recruiters (or “headhunters”) may get a bad rap, but the ones I know are completely wired in to who is looking for a better job. Maybe someone’s spouse is relocating to your city and they have the skills you need. Here’s where you can tap into that knowledge and get a leg up on your competition.

Sure, there is a cost – usually around 20 to 25 percent of the total annual salary for the employee. The benefit, though, is that the candidates come prescreened. You will be interviewing total rock stars for that position. Professional recruiters don’t want to send you people who can’t do the job. They want to send you folks who can excel instantly, so that you’ll be back the next time you’re having trouble filling an opening.

Recruiters can be especially helpful if you’re in a particularly difficult geographic labor market. When a candidate you want isn’t going to be moving to your city anyway, you need to think about what you will be offering to get them there. You’ll have to fly them in for the interview. If they are in production, I would pay them to work a day to show off their skills. Think about what you would be offering to move them, too. Maybe pay their moving expenses, or a fixed amount toward them. Consider a signing bonus. 

Make It Easy

I’ll bet you have a website; most shops do. Does yours have a section dedicated to employees? Does it show smiling, happy people working? 


Your website can be a great recruiting tool. Include a job portal where people can apply to work for you, listing open positions with job descriptions and pay ranges. Use your social media feeds to show how much fun people have working in your shop. Pictures of your chili cook-off. The Halloween costume contest. The event where everyone went to the go-kart track or baseball game. Walking in a cancer fundraiser.

You want to make it easy for people to decide they want to work for you. If you are doing this well, you’ll have people applying even when you don’t have jobs listed.

Think about it from an outsider’s point of view. Can you name three reasons anyone would want to work in your shop (besides “it’s a job”)? 

Application Process

Next, consider your application process. You absolutely don’t want anyone who simply can fog a mirror. You want employees who will shine – who want to succeed and grow, with values that align with yours. Is that anywhere in your application process?

For example, let’s say creativity is one of the attributes you are searching for in an open position. Ask applicants to cite examples of how creative they are. Get them to prove they have what you’re looking for before you even start interviewing.

On the flip side, look at things from the candidates’ point of view. For someone who has boatloads of creativity, what tells them this is an attribute you cherish and are seeking?

To make good hiring decisions, you have to know what matters for both parties. This is how you find long-term employees who will be good fits and will grow with your company. 

Hire for Attitude; Train for Skill

Ah, the age-old axiom that’s probably truer than ever. While the ideal candidate may be very elusive, there are plenty of people who could be the perfect candidate – eventually.

These folks may already be working for you. That guy in the screenroom would really love to run a press. Your heat press operator has her sights set on working in shipping. Often, people take positions to get their foot in the door in companies where they will be able to grow. With training, you can give them those opportunities.

Personally, I’d rather take someone with the hunger to learn something new every day over a stick-in-the-mud vet who only wants to keep their head down and do their job. Over the long haul, which one do you think would help you scale up your business faster?

So keep your eye out for attitude. The perfect candidate might not show up. But if you see someone with potential, it might be worth taking a chance.

In past jobs, I’ve always enjoyed taking an employee out of the trenches, training them to fill multiple roles, and giving them stretch opportunities. In four or five years, they may be running the department. You have to see them not in their current role, but three or four levels above the one they are in now. The trick is getting them there. 



Let’s Talk About It

Creating a More Diverse and Inclusive Screen Printing Industry

LET’S TALK About It: Part 3 discusses how four screen printers have employed people with disabilities, why you should consider doing the same, the resources that are available, and more. Watch the live webinar, held August 16, moderated by Adrienne Palmer, editor-in-chief, Screen Printing magazine, with panelists Ali Banholzer, Amber Massey, Ryan Moor, and Jed Seifert. The multi-part series is hosted exclusively by ROQ.US and U.N.I.T.E Together. Let’s Talk About It: Part 1 focused on Black, female screen printers and can be watched here; Part 2 focused on the LGBTQ+ community and can be watched here.

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