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Printing Machine Operators - What They Do

How to Advance (Advancement)
As press operators gain experience, they may advance in pay and responsibility by working on more complex printing presses. For example, operators who have demonstrated their ability to work with one-color sheet-fed presses may be trained to operate four-color sheet-fed presses. Voluntarily earning formal certification may also help press operators advance. Operators also may advance to pressroom supervisors and become responsible for an entire press crew. In addition, press operators can draw on their knowledge of press operations to become cost estimators, providing estimates of printing jobs to potential customers, sales representatives, and instructors of printing-related courses, or move into other administrative or executive occupations.

Printing machine operators held about 195,600 jobs in 2008. Over half of all press operator jobs were in printing and related support activities. Paper manufacturing and newspaper publishers also were large employers. Additional jobs were in advertising, public relations, and related services and plastics product manufacturing.

The printing and newspaper publishing industries are two of the most geographically dispersed in the United States. While printing machine operators thus can find jobs throughout the country, large numbers of jobs are concentrated in large printing centers such as the Chicago, Los Angeles-Long Beach, New York, Minneapolis-St. Paul, Philadelphia, Boston, and Washington, DC metropolitan areas.

Job Outlook
Employment of printing machine operators is projected to decline moderately through 2018, as newer printing presses require fewer operators. Despite this, job opportunities are expected to be favorable because a large number of these workers are expected to retire or leave the occupation over the next decade. The best opportunities will be available to skilled press operators.

Job Growth
Employment of press operators is expected to decline by 5 percent over the 2008-18 period. Employment will fall because increasing printer speed and automation require fewer press operators to maintain production levels. This will be especially true among the large printing press operations such as those used by the newspaper industry. Expansion of digital printing technologies and related increases in production cost efficiencies, however, will allow printers to print smaller quantities more profitably and meet the growing interest in the print-on-demand and electronic publishing markets. This should widen the market for printed materials, offsetting some of the employment loss from increased productivity. Short-run print capabilities will permit printers to distribute a wider variety of catalogs, direct mail enclosures, newspaper inserts, and other kinds of print as advertisers are better able to identify the specific interests of a targeted market or audience.

Opportunities for employment in printing press operations should be favorable. Retirements of older printing machine operators and the need for workers trained on computerized printing equipment will create many job openings. For example, small printing jobs will increasingly be run on sophisticated high-speed digital printing equipment that requires a complex set of skills, such as knowledge of database management software. Those who complete postsecondary training programs in printing and who are comfortable with computers will have the best employment opportunities.

Median hourly wages of printing machine operators were $15.46 in May 2008, compared to $13.99 per hour for all production occupations. The middle 50 percent earned between $11.65 and $20.08 an hour. The lowest 10 percent earned less than $9.13, and the highest 10 percent earned more than $24.98 an hour. Median hourly wages in May 2008 were $17.70 in newspaper, periodical, book and directory publishers and $15.85 in printing and related support activities, industries employing among the largest numbers of printing machine operators.

The basic wage rate for a printing machine operator depends on the geographic area in which the work is located and on the size and complexity of the printing press being operated.

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