Thursday, 12 September 2013

Publishing skills: the changing landscape

Margie Jarvis, Learning and Development Director at Oxford University Press, began what proved to be a highly interactive session by describing the changing landscape publishers currently inhabit. Our work is becoming more complex and paradoxical, she suggested; craving certainty, we must instead cope with ambiguity. And the new skills required to work effectively in this environment are not purely the technical skills at might be expected: publishers also need more sophisticated soft skills than ever before, now that they find themselves working increasingly collaboratively, with a wider range of partners. Meanwhile, people's expectations of work are changing: more and more, they expect a sense of achievement from what they do.

Jarvis was followed by a colleague from OUP, Penelope Woolf, whose focus, she explained, was on how we attract the right people into publishing. To illustrate the problems involved, she showed a short film of A-level students answering questions on the industry. Tellingly, the word "printing" came up twice in the first ten seconds of their answers, with proof-reading identified as one of the key contributions made by publishers to the publishing process. Though most of the students hadn't considered a career in publishing, those who had, had done so because it "involved a lot of reading". Woolf then compared a list of publishing roles mentioned by the students with those advertised on a publisher's website, and the disparity between the two was striking: the majority of advertised jobs were technical, an area completely absent from the students' list.

Highlighting how the students' perceptions of publishing were mostly fifty years out of date, Woolf moved on to consider how our new reality differs: new competitors, new and multiple business models, and a greater focus on our customers. Our staff need new skills - digital literacy, an understanding of user journeys, and an ability to negotiate complex supplier contracts, for instance - yet we cannot afford to lose the skills they already have, particularly creativity. Employees need to be as flexible as publishers themselves must be, but if we don't change perceptions of the industry, we won't be able to hire the sort of people we need.

Rossella Proscia, marketing director for EMEA at Cengage Learning, then turned the focus on to the changing role of marketing departments. Undertaking a widening range of tasks, from contributing to the product proposition to creating customer insights from data analysis, marketing staff more than ever need passion, audacity, and responsible optimism; they need to be capable of finding effective ways to take action. Though specific skills such as blogging and tweeting may prove ephemeral, an ability to learn will remain vital.

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