A predictable effect of the economic recession is going to be higher unemployment. It's going to be affecting all of us, regardless of the business that we're in. And Document Operations, whether in-house or at a service bureau, is probably going to be requested to lower costs. For a lot of shops, this will mean a reduction in force.


With the price of materials, machine parts, supplies, and postage going up there are going to be more than a few document operations managers that are faced with cutting payroll costs. Some experienced people are going to be let go.


This couldn't come at a worse time.


The document printing and mailing industry is going through some revolutionary changes. The documents that are being produced are becoming more complex as is the overall customer communications strategy in which document operations plays a leading part. Not only that, but we're poised to undergo a significant postal barcoding transformation, new mail preparation procedures, and new postal rate structures. Added to the mix is an emphasis on lessening the environmental footprint at your company. This is hardly the time when you would want to lose the services of any of your experienced staff.


Sadly, for some there will be no other choice but to lay off workers or decrease hours; which may in turn lead to resignations.


A lot of document center managers will be looking to their remaining staff to pick up the slack. But do the supervisors and lead operators have the necessary skills to handle the integration of highly personalized documents and new processes?


In a recent survey, Print/Mail Consultants asked document center managers about how they and their staff acquired the knowledge they needed to do their jobs effectively. Most people in this business learn the ropes from co-workers through casual mentoring relationships or through observation. Other popular knowledge sources mentioned by survey respondents were workshops conducted at trade shows, and offsite or onsite single-day training sessions.


These traditional training methods for document center management and staff present a near-term risk. Some of that co-worker knowledge is probably going to walk out the door due to layoffs. And one would suspect that getting budget approval this year for sending staff to out-of-town trade shows or paying trainers to do in-person workshops may be a challenge.


So, how will document centers address this knowledge shortfall? How will managers and staff get up to speed on new regulations, available technology, or processes?


Well, trade magazines and newsletters will help some. Their editors are very interested in finding and serving up the information that their readership demands. Trade associations may have some resources, and many of the local Postal Customer Councils provide some training for certain topics. Your hardware or software vendors may also be a source.


But be aware that all these organizations are facing financial challenges too. Some may find it impossible to continue to provide free or low-cost training. If you've identified a good source of training material it's probably a good idea to take advantage of it right away.


Unfortunately, there is not an abundance of information available for this industry - particularly for print and mail operations. That's what prompted our company to develop some online courses and publish a book for document operations managers.


Make sure that shop procedures are well-documented and that quality-control and error-recovery processes are solid. These are going to become even more important as you move to ever-increasing personalized content such as with Transpromo statements or intricate marketing messaging that is tied to customer responses acquired via email, phone, and the web.


Look for ways to lower material, production, and postage costs wherever possible. There are opportunities in nearly every shop. The more money you save, the fewer staff cuts you'll have to make.


Take advantage of the knowledge you have in your shop today, while you still have those resources. Cross-train, share, and mentor junior staff members. Make specific plans for addressing your company's environmental sustainability goals by doing a targeted assessment of your documents, data, and operations.


The recovery may come. But the economy is unlikely to rise as fast as it fell. We should start preparing the workforce now to be competitive in the worldwide marketplace with fewer resources. They will need to understand and be able to respond to the technical, market, and social changes that will be part of our professional lives for the next several years.


Mike Porter is an expert in Print and Mail operations and President of Print/Mail Consultants, an independent consulting firm that helps companies nationwide be more productive, adapt to changing requirements, and lower costs in their document operations. For more information on training, Green Assessments, or other services, visit http://www.printmailconsultants.com/ or email Mike directly at mporter@printmailconsultants.com.