Canadian Occupational Projection System (COPS)

Industrial Summary

Printing and Related Activities

NAICS 3231

This industry comprises establishments primarily engaged in printing and providing related support activities such as pre-press and bindery work. Printing is among the few manufacturing activities in Canada that are not significantly exposed to changes in global economic conditions and in the value of the Canadian dollar as only 10% of production is shipped to foreign countries, mostly to the United States (75% of exports). The industry employed 51,300 workers in 2021 (3.0% of total manufacturing employment), largely concentrated in Ontario (48%) and Quebec (23%), with a workforce predominantly composed of men (63%). Key occupations (4-digit NOC) include:[1]

  • Printing press operators (7381)
  • Graphic designers and illustrators (5241)
  • Supervisors, printing and related occupations (7303)
  • Other labourers in processing, manufacturing and utilities (9619)
  • Binding and finishing machine operators (9473)
  • Camera, platemaking and other prepress occupations (9472)
  • Plateless printing equipment operators (9471)
  • Graphic arts technicians (5223)

Production and employment in the industry have been on a declining trend since the early 2000s, primarily reflecting lower demand for printed materials, largely attributable to the transition toward digital media. More specifically, printing has been adversely affected by the increasing use of more efficient technologies, such as electronic documents and digital applications. The Internet has pulled readers away from newspapers, magazines and other paper media products. Growing environmental concerns have also incited businesses and consumers to reduce their use of paper, such as printed bills, promotional brochures and other paper marketing materials. E-commerce and e-billing represent lower cost alternatives for businesses looking to reduce their expenditures, while e-readers continue to grow in popularity, reducing demand for conventional printing. The use and printing of manifold business forms have been declining for many years, as digital forms are cheaper and easier to track. Further developments in secure electronic signatures and fillable documents also contributed to amplify this trend. After stabilizing from 2015 to 2018, the declining trend observed in output and employment resumed and accelerated during the COVID-19 pandemic years as the rapid shift toward telework, online services and virtual learning led to additional decreases in the demand for printed materials. This resulted in net annual declines of 3.4% in real GDP and 4.5% in employment for the entire period 2012-2021. Since its employment peak of 2003, the industry has cut over half of its workforce through major consolidations in an effort to contain costs, increase efficiency and become more concentrated around large firms. These consolidation efforts had a positive impact on productivity over the past two decades, with growth averaging 1.1% per year from 2012 to 2021.

Over the projection period, most of the challenges faced throughout the past decade will continue to be problematic for the industry, as the displacement of print by digital media is not expected to reverse. Structural changes in demand are expected to encourage the industry to look beyond the traditional printing processes for growth and move into areas where there is robust corporate demand, such as labelling, packaging, commercial screen printing and multi-surface printing. Examples of new printing technologies include erasable printing, three-dimensional digital printing for packaging, and jetted-material printing in a variety of materials, such as foil, wood, textiles, ceramics, metal and glass. With the surging demand for digital content, firms have also the opportunity to change and diversify their business models in order to provide more value-added services, including graphic design, logistics, marketing, communication and online content management services. While those new opportunities are not expected to enable the printing industry to expand significantly over the long term, they could help offset weaker demand for traditional printing.

The industry’s real GDP is projected to keep declining in 2022 and stabilize for the remainder of the forecast horizon, resulting in a net average decline of 0.2% annually over the period 2022-2031. Despite the small contraction in output, employment growth is expected to return to positive territory, averaging a modest 0.3% per year, due to a turnaround in productivity, which is expected to decline by 0.5% annually. In fact, all the increase in employment and the totality of the decline in productivity are expected to occur in 2022-2023, reflecting adjustments to a post-pandemic environment. Starting in 2024, productivity growth is expected to resume (+0.6% annually) and employment to return to its declining trend (-0.6% annually). Indeed, with the industry shifting from traditional printing techniques to digital printing, firms are expected to spend more on their information and communications technology (ICT) infrastructure and less on labour. There could be, however, an increased demand for higher-skilled workers to operate the complex newer technologies.

Real GDP and Employment Growth Rates in Printing and Related Activities

Figure showing the annual average growth rates of real GDP and employment over the periods 2012-2021 and 2022-2031 for the industry of printing and related activities. The data is shown on the table following this figure

Sources: Statistics Canada (historical) and ESDC 2022 COPS industrial projections.

Text Version of Figure Real GDP and Employment Growth Rates in Printing and Related Activities (%, annual average)
  Real GDP Employment
2012-2021 -3.4 -4.5
2022-2031 -0.2 0.3

Sources: Statistics Canada (historical) and ESDC 2022 COPS industrial projections.

[1]Key occupations for manufacturing industries in general also include: Manufacturing managers (0911); Construction millwrights and industrial mechanics (7311); Material handlers (7452); Shippers and receivers (1521); Transport truck drivers (7511); Industrial engineering and manufacturing technologists and technicians (2233); Industrial electricians (7242); and Industrial and manufacturing engineers (2141).Back to text.

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