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Attacking the Skills Shortage in Publishing

Whilst going through our archives, I found this article and have republished it with only a slight edit to remove one statistic. Please read
through, and let us know how relevant you think it is to today’s job market.

Attacking the skills shortage in publishing

Suzanne Collier on why we should care better not only for those made redundant but also for those who remain in work

Victims of the recession are many. Every week we hear of the three Rs – reorganisation, rationalisation and redundancy – putting those who seemed forever onwards and upwards back on the job-seeking market.
Much has been written about how one should cope with redundancy, but our concern should focus also on those who are left behind at such companies. Because although many may not yet have realised it, companies are beginning to suffer.

On the ladder
Some years ago there were several levels of staff in all departments. One started as a secretary or assistant, and gained promotion to an administrative or junior management level and, in time, gained further promotion and experience. All this did not necessarily happen at the same company, but advertisements would encourage those who felt they’d reached the pinnacle of one level to move to the base of the next.
This has changed, and it now appears that the mid-level has been completely wiped out, with severe implications for an industry whose main intake of staff is university graduates and which recruits few mid-level managers from other industries. We are also an industry that relies heavily on on-the-job experience and very little formal training.
A skills shortage is starting to affect some companies. Where previously they would promote internally, they are now having to recruit, but although inundated with replies, they are often unable to find people of the right calibre or experience on the right level to fill their vacancies. This leaves companies with a dilemma. Unable to promote from within, do they take a chance on an unknown, or poach from their competitors? Both are potentially costly risks and may or may not provide a solution.
How much does it cost you to recruit? Employment agencies charge between 10% and 20% of annual salary, though they do save on a lot of inhouse personnel time. The cost of advertising in the national press at around £1000 a shot may seem high, but it is little in relation to the amount of management time selecting and interviewing staff. It doesn’t matter how you go about recruiting new employees, the biggest problem is that you really don’t know if they are any good until they start in their jobs.

Dramatic change
Each area is affected in its own way. Production and editorial problems are the result of the dramatic changes in technology and bear some relation to the number of freelances being employed. Many staff becomes co-ordinators for teams of freelances and can end up doing little practical work themselves, leaving them with few practical skills and completely out of touch with hands-on developments.
Problems within sales and marketing are a result of reluctance to train staff who, from the outset, do not appear to require special attention. There is an attitude that sales staff can either sell or they can’t. So why train?
So why train people who are already good at their jobs? Well, none of us is perfect, we all make mistakes, and we all have bad habits. Good training can help prevent mistakes and eradicate bad habits; it also brings you into contact with your peers, people doing a similar job, coping with similar problems, and this can give refreshing insights into other companies without actually changing jobs. You would not employ an accountant who was not properly trained, so why employ a rep or marketing manager whose mistakes can be just as costly? Management courses are also poorly attended. If our managers and directors are not properly trained, what hope is there for the rest of us?
In these hard times training organisations should flourish. We have to teach those who lack experience or skills to overcome their handicaps. Instead, training is seen as a luxury. The normal excuse is that you cannot afford a few hundred pounds nor allow someone to spend a few days out of the office. But such shortsightedness could cost a lot more, in money and time.

The way back
How can we combat this?
There are already established training programmes. Ask the inevitable question of where you see yourself in five years time and try to organise a career plan relevant to those ideals.

Try to get some inhouse cross training by spending time in each department or function and in either a bookshop or printer.

Get encouragement by asking for new, perhaps more senior, tasks, and try to sit in on meetings. Learn to use your own initiative.

Join trade associations such as the Society of Young Publishers, Women in Publishing, Children’s Book Circle and Publishers’ Publicity Circle. All offer an exchange of ideas and the opportunity to learn at little cost. Some companies will pay for staff to join.

‘It’s not happening here.’ It is happening everywhere. Open your eyes. What will happen when one of your colleagues leaves?

It may surprise you to learn that this article was originally published in The Bookseller on 25 November 1994. Are you shocked by how old this article is? How relevant is it to you today and your workplace?

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