The Publishing Assistant apprenticeship: its impact on Newgen and me

The difficulties of breaking into publishing are an open secret in the industry. The job market is saturated by publishing hopefuls with relevant degrees in Publishing, English Literature or Creative Writing and as a result there are countless articles, blogs and vlogs dedicated to securing your first position. Yet actually reaching the interview stage, let alone a receiving job offer, is a miracle. The stars aligned when I was offered the chance to become Newgen’s first Production and Editorial Assistant Apprentice (such a snappy title!) and I can quite honestly say that the experience literally changed my life.

I joined Newgen at the end of May 2020, smack bang right in the middle of the first lockdown. It was a surreal experience entering an industry without face-to-face contact with anybody. Yet being remote did not stop Newgen from going above and beyond in facilitating my learning journey. They enthusiastically rotated me through the different departments from finance to ELT, commissioning to education and academic, all the while patiently answering my never-ending questions so that I could understand and experience the full range of publishing. It later paid off when, for instance, I was already trained on the new finance system we switched to!

The apprenticeship stipulates that on top of your typical working day and coursework, an additional 20% of your working week should be dedicated to off-the-job training. Newgen embraced this fully, helping me attend talks and masterclasses like BookMachine’s 2021 Tech Season, the IPG conferences and any other events that I thought might benefit my learning. I even went to Glasgow and did a publishing trail whilst on holiday!  

As my apprenticeship progressed, the complexity of tasks I was assigned increased and I began to be entrusted with managing my own projects and clients. Simultaneously, I was required to create an apprenticeship portfolio, comprising three project reports in addition to fifteen pieces of evidence. It was with trepidation that I asked for a testimonial: Newgen gave me eight glowing recommendations. For my final exam, I nervously wrote and presented a report suggesting new and emerging markets Newgen should target before being grilled on my publishing knowledge for over three hours. When I ended the video call, I couldn’t speak for the rest of the day as I had lost my voice!

The publishing apprenticeship encourages people from all ages and backgrounds to apply, but especially those with no relevant tertiary education. Designed as a Level 3 apprenticeship, it is the equivalent to an A/S Level; consequently open to school leavers as an alternate form of education. Operating on the principle that the perfect applicant only needs to show EEWAP (Energy, Enthusiasm, Willingness to learn, Ability to receive feedback and Propensity to take action) the lack of prequalification could be seen as a weakness, but on the contrary: it is a strength. The publishing pool has long been risking stagnancy due to the restriction of drawing from those based in or around London with typical middle-class backgrounds. The apprenticeship is helping to break down those barriers by enabling a more diverse range of applicants with different backgrounds, skills and experiences to take a punt in the industry. From that diversity, new concepts, processes and markets are being explored.

I achieved Distinction in my apprenticeship. Without a doubt that would not have been possible without Newgen’s support and encouragement. I have transformed from somebody who was daunted at landing a job in an alien world to becoming a confident worker self-assured in my industry-wide knowledge of publishing. Newgen too has seen the impact of my apprenticeship: the Education/ELT department are currently recruiting for an apprentice of their own!

Seven months on, Newgen have continued to nurture my professional development through implementing a training programme specific to me. Recently I was promoted to Trainee Editor. Newgen gave me the opportunity and the tools to succeed and thrive in publishing.

But most of all, they simply took a chance.

Mary McCormick is Trainee Production Editor at Newgen Publishing UK.