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Should You Hire Experienced or Inexperienced Employees?

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Should You Hire Experienced or Inexperienced Employees?

ohammed Easmael, founder of SwagTex, doesn’t hire people with prior experience in the decorated-apparel industry. For Easmael, hiring is much easier when he doesn’t limit his choices to people with decorating experience.

“Hiring industry people just isn’t for me. The question, ‘How hard is it to find help?’ has gotten a lot easier, because I hire everybody and train them. If they show up with the right attitude and they’re willing to learn, they can move around my shop.”
Mohammed Easmael, founder of SwagTex

Angie Stone, who runs Bling For Everybody with her husband Scott, recently hired two new staff members – one with zero experience, the other with several years of pressing garments and running her own Etsy shop. “Both are amazing,” Stone says.

“It’s taken a few months to train the novice and she still has a lot to learn. However, we gave minimal instructions to the experienced presser. With her help we’ve quadrupled our daily production, and our bottom line definitely reflects the change.”

In the ongoing debate of whether it’s better to hire inexperienced vs. experienced employees, both sides of the hiring spectrum can be advantageous for your shop.

What Happens When You Hire Inexperienced Candidates?

Veteran decorator Howard Potter has hired employees with as little as one year of job experience and as much as 20. “Almost every time, they didn’t know what we needed them to know to produce quality work in our shop,” says Potter, CEO of A&P Master Images.

“We’re better off hiring someone with zero experience in a print shop and training them from scratch. If they bring bad past industry work experience, we spend more time explaining why our way works better.”
Howard Potter, CEO of A&P Master Images

Here are three benefits of hiring people with less job experience in a print shop or on their resume:

1. You can train them to your shop’s specific needs.

Recent graduates or candidates with less on-the-job experience don’t come with as much work “baggage” or bad habits as more experienced candidates. Greener employees may be far more willing to learn and mold to your shop’s setup and organizational structure. Hiring inexperienced candidates also lets you train them your way.

“The employee doesn’t say, ‘This is how we did it at my last shop,’ and then disregard what we expect. Two of our last hires had no previous experience. Since we train them, our rate of mistakes has dramatically dropped and we’ve increased sales.”
Christina Dell’Orefice, owner of Delightful Detail Custom Embroidery & Promotional Products

2. Your shop benefits from fresh perspectives.

Recent grads or younger employees are often on the cutting edge of technology and social media, so they bring a great perspective for connecting with prospects on TikTok or using video testimonials. People with a production background, but not in printing, might bring new ideas for streamlining processes.

“I like people who are young and motivated. They want to learn the trade and this business, and they want to develop themselves. I get along with people like that super well, since there’s a common ground.”
Mohammed Easmael, founder of SwagTex

3. You can implement changes with less resistance.

Sometimes, when making over your shop culture or processes, getting an entire long-time staff on board can be challenging. People with less experience may be more willing to adapt to new processes and techniques – and then keep that attitude as they advance.

“My best case scenario is that I hire young and build them up as I go and they scale. They go from an entry-level employee to a department lead, to running their own space, to then making a percentage of what the space does.”
Mohammed Easmael, founder of SwagTex

Stone had a similar experience hiring a very inexperienced person a few years ago. “She had blue hair, along with a certain ‘something’ we were willing to take a chance on,” she says. “She quickly became invaluable and ran our shop single-handedly when my husband was diagnosed with cancer.”

Drawbacks to hiring inexperienced employees

1. You’ll spend more upfront resources and time training.

An experienced employee may  be able to jump into your shop’s rhythm and be productive without a lot of hand-holding. A newbie may cost you in time and resources, if other employees need to step away from their work to train them. “We do offer a higher starting pay to experienced applicants, as their training time is shorter,” Stone says.

Another issue is trying to teach an inexperienced employee too much, too quickly. “You’ll give them information overload and even scare them away from the job,” Potter says.

“Breaking training into sections, starting with easy tasks, builds confidence. Our new system shortens training in each area to one to two months to mastery, down from six months.”
Howard Potter, CEO of A&P Master Images

2. They might make costly mistakes.

If you bombard a new hire with lots of info, they’ll ride a longer learning curve and make mistakes along the way that could cost your shop. The flip side of this is giving an inexperienced hire not enough work or menial tasks for too long, so they don’t get up to speed fast enough or just lose interest.

3. They may not be ready to make a long-term commitment.

The worst part about investing training time into inexperienced candidates is if they don’t stay with you for the long haul. To combat this, focus on your retention strategies with incentives to stay, like a clear career path with raises.

What Happens When You Hire Experienced Candidates?

People can have a ton of experience in the printing industry or within other fields that help them excel in your shop. Contract Impressions owner Colette Wilhelm likes to hire people with work experience in other industries, especially kitchens.

“Kitchen staffers understand how to follow different work orders, hustle and pay attention to details, and communicate effectively. They make great candidates to learn screen printing or embroidery.”  - Colette Wilhelm, owner of Contract Impressions

In fact, she hired a former line cook a few years ago who started reclaiming screens, the dirtiest job in the shop, to finally promote him to production manager. There are lots of advantages to hiring people with prior work experience, within a print shop or elsewhere:

They can hit the ground running.

Michelle Swisher, owner of Thread Maze Embroidery, hired a retired teacher with no decorating experience to assist part-time in her shop. “Unfortunately, I’ve dealt with work world newbies who call out often, aren’t on time and don’t pay attention to what they’re doing,” she says. “While they’re not all that way, I preferred to hire someone with a strong work ethic and experience. She’s on time, produces consistent work and is very organized.”

They’re more familiar with industry-specific tools and practices.

If you hire an experienced screen printer or artist, they’ve used the machines, software and processes you use on a daily basis. Even if they need to learn additional equipment or software, it’s easier to get them up to speed.

They have faster growth potential for leadership and mentoring roles.

Dell’Orefice needed an experienced salesperson and customer service staffer as she expanded her business. “We needed time to oversee acquiring new equipment and retail/work space, and that took time away from training,” she says.

“Having people with experience in sales and service gave us confidence to move forward, rather than micromanaging the sales and customer service team. The experienced pros we hired gave us the opportunity to grow our business.”
Christina Dell’Orefice, owner of Delightful Detail Custom Embroidery & Promotional Products

They’re ready to stay with you for the long term.

An employee who’s worked at different companies may know what they’re looking for right off the bat and will be comfortable settling in as a long-haul team member you can count on.

You’re less likely to replace them.

You’re less likely to need to replace them with someone who’s more suited to the role, costing you more time, money and even lost income.

If you’re weighing the pros and cons of what type of candidate to hire, here are a few reasons that might give you pause on an experienced person:

They might bring bad habits and a resistance to change.

You might hear them say, “But I’ve always done it this way,” when you ask them to switch up how they do their job.

“If I bring in someone with bad habits from another shop, I think I’m inheriting a great printer, but I’m actually inheriting someone who isn’t willing to be flexible with the process. I don’t care how great of a printer you are. If you can’t work with my shop’s processes, you can’t help me.”
Mohammed Easmael, founder of SwagTex

They have higher salary expectations.

Since they’ve built up an experienced resume, they’ll likely require a higher starting salary and more benefits, so if experience is important to you, budget accordingly.

They may follow obsolete or incorrect processes.

Just because someone’s been on the job for 30 years doesn’t mean they’re the best candidate for your shop’s role. “Experience is always a plus, but they can be even higher risk than those without experience,” Potter says.

“Remember, no two shops ever run the same. We hired someone with 20 years of experience, but their constant ink spills, inaccurate registration, and poor location placement cost us a small fortune in a short period.”
Howard Potter, CEO of A&P Master Images

Level the Hiring Playing Field

After 10 years in business, Stone has had more success with hiring employees by crafting an employment framework around a great applicant’s skillset. “Someone can present with no applicable experience, but they have a confidence and demeanor that shows they’re capable of learning,” she says. “Having the right attitude and willingness to learn goes a long way.”

Ultimately, who you hire for specific roles depends on your shop, volume, speed and setup. This is true whether you’re running 10 automatic presses in a high-volume environment or running two single-heads in your garage. Because you’ll likely find both quality inexperienced and experienced candidates, the key is taking the time to define your job requirements and how a person can fit into your shop for the long-term.

Oct 15, 2023