It seems that there’s not a publishing skills shortage at all
Peter McKay is Chief Executive of the Publishing Training Centre. He joined the PTC in 2011 after 34 years in educational, scholarly and professional publishing. The PTC, an independent charitable foundation established 40 year ago, is a network of over 50 publishing and training professionals focused solely on delivering training courses for the publishing industry and developing publishing skills.
In the 21st century, book publishing companies seem to be investing less in the skills training of their employees than they used to, can this be right?
How does the Publishing Training Centre see it?
Such a picture seems evident when viewed through the lens of the Publishing Training Centre (PTC). At the turn of the century the PTC offered 82 individual, Open (classroom) Courses; in 2017 we offer 22.
In the year 2000 the PTC scheduled 381 days of training and trained 2,117 participants; in 2017 we have scheduled 74 days with a capacity of 714.
Why might this have happened?
Acquisition and consolidation of independent houses into imprints of bigger companies has certainly impacted the number of people employed by publishing companies. (Not to mention one company shedding 500 UK employees is response to a weak global performance.)Fewer employees, less training needed.
The larger companies have turned increasingly to In-Company (exclusive, in-house) training rather than sending employees to external courses. 2013 was a turning point for PTC when, for the first time, we trained more people In-Company than on the Open Courses.
A recent survey of small to medium sized publishers reported that, whilst about half of them claimed to use external training courses, only one in seven admitted to having a specific training budget. Four out of five companies use on-the-job training and one in two companies use coaching or mentoring.
What about freelancers?
There is a “skills counter-balance” and that is the long standing trend to outsource parts of the publishing process to freelancers and offshore companies. This trend accelerated after the 2009 economic downturn and is reflected through the PTC prism; we enrol an average of 70 people a month onto our editorial skills, self-study, courses.
The vast majority of self-study students are either freelancers or working their way to being one. These are people who have decided to take responsibility for their own skills development and also taken control of their working lives.
Let’s not forget the universities
The earliest degree courses in Publishing certainly date back to the early 1980s but it is true to say that the 21st century has seen a major growth in post-graduate and undergraduates gaining degrees and joining the workforce. Graduates of all hues have always represented a significant percentage of new recruits to the industry. One estimate is that one in ten of new recruits in any one year are grads and post-grads of publishing courses. It will be believed that this cohort will require less “training input” from their new employer than the generalist of old.
Does any of this matter?
For anyone looking to start and then grow a career in publishing it matters a lot. Publishing is about people and talent. Talent needs fostering and appropriate training at the right time has a powerful effect – and you might just have to go find it for yourself.