Last week I was delighted to open the talk season at the Galley Club. They invited me to share my experience about changing skillset in publishing. I focussed on production skills but really we could apply the tips and advice below to any job in publishing. Here is a retranscription of what my presentation.
Before I start, let me tell you just a little bit about me: I studied Spanish and Publishing back in France and I worked in trade publishing in Paris for a few years. I was Editorial and Legal Assistant for a pocketbook publisher there. Three and a half years ago I moved to London because I wanted a life and career change. I’ve been working at Atwood Tate for three years now. At Atwood Tate we cover all kinds of roles at all levels across all publishing sectors, from academic to STM, B2B, trade or professional. For three years I’ve been working on production and production editorial roles, amongst others. So I will focus on changing skills set in publishing and more particularly in production, and will tell you how to keep your skills relevant and adapt to changing roles.
- Context: changes in publishing and production
This is not breaking news, publishing has been through many changes over the years. Proof of that is the invasion of “metadata” and “content” in the headlines of conferences and seminars. Publishing has changed, whether it’s in STM, academic, professional or educational and of course trade as well, which had perhaps been a bit slower to adapt than many other sectors, in terms of innovation and digitisation of content. As I’m sure everyone is aware, sales of digital products, whether that be eBooks, online journals, databases or online platforms have grown considerably. And publishers developed new systems and workflows to enable their content to be published in various formats.
This obviously has affected all roles within publishing and the skills required to do those jobs. The same goes for the printing industry. In three years at Atwood Tate, I have seen a huge variety of new job titles, most including the word “digital”, but this has changed again actually, as digital is now entrenched in all that they do and it doesn’t need to always be highlighted.
In terms of production, we’ve seen a change in workflows and methodologies, with for example a move to xml first workflows. New products, formats and technologies means new systems being put in place, whether that be overhauling production workflows and peer-review processes or outsourcing the digital conversion of files to specialist suppliers. As a result we’ve noticed a demand for more project and programme managers, both on a permanent and fixed-term contract basis. Professionals need to be able to review and master workflows and processes.
Now don’t hate me, but there is also a lot of demand and opportunity for people with strong technical skills: knowledge of mark-up language such as html and xml is often required, as well as basic coding and analytics. Everybody should be comfortable reading and manipulating simple data. Because it’s all about data and metadata nowadays! And being able to deal with suppliers and control the quality of the data received. Highly technical roles are still relatively rare in publishing, because the majority of platforms and systems are being developed and built by external suppliers, but this could change, and larger publishers do already have teams of developers working on bespoke software in-house.
But there is a good news! Publishers are not just looking outside the industry for people with skills that are missing. When I joined Atwood Tate, I worked on Digital Producer or Video Producer roles and our clients were saying that they were open to hire people from outside of the industry, because they felt that existing publishing candidates lacked the experience and skills required. However I’m pleased to say that this has changed, and in the majority of cases, the online/digital aspects have been integrated into the traditional positions. Bringing new people in is good for diversity but often very techy people might not fit into the creative world of publishing. Now this brings me to my next point, how do you build up on your skills? How do you keep these relevant?
- Get to know your skills and your career options
Traditional skills are still key in publishing. The profile of production and production editorial people have not really changed. The “hard skills” used in production are still the same. Yes, you need to be able to deal with suppliers but it’s nothing a production controller is not used to be doing. You need to be a good project manager to master workflows? Well again this is a core skill of production people, organisation, time-management. You need to be able to work comfortably with data? Production professionals were always required to have a good head for numbers and a keen eye for detail. I realise I sound a bit like a job description but what I want to say is there is nothing unachievable here!
Before updating your skills though, I would advise to get to know them. Assess your experience and see what you’re good at, what you’re missing. You need to be able to identify a skill you don’t have by talking to colleagues and competitors. If you work in a very small company, maybe go to seminars to identify the latest trends in the market, talk to fellow production people. If you need advice on your options, talking to a recruiter is also a good idea. Recruiters will be able to tell you where there is a shortage of skills in the market and where you will have more opportunities. You can also have a look at some job adverts to identify the requirements of publishers.
It is important for you to be aware of your options. The days of keeping one job for life are long gone. And there are many different paths a production candidate can take, whether it’s managing a production team, or becoming a project manager. It could be working in Operations where production profiles are often required or managing relationships with suppliers. There are multiple careers available for production candidates. So ask yourself: what are you good at? What do you enjoy doing? Where do you want your career to go?
- Keeping your skills updated
Now once you’ve identified which of your abilities and skills you would like to develop, how do you get there? How do you gain new skills and update your existing ones?
One way is obviously through training.
As I mentioned earlier, publishers do understand the importance of experience and publishing knowledge. And they are now training and reskilling people rather than bringing in new people for the sake of it. A lot of our candidates are sent on training courses or in-house workshops. There are several training organisations out there and hopefully your company will back you up. It’s worth having a look at the benefits of a publisher before accepting a new role there, to see if training is provided on a regular basis.
Publishers are making an effort to retain their staff and train them for different roles. A lot of our clients are encouraging people to move into different roles or even different departments within their organisation. It’s a massive benefit and in the long term can save on time and money. They would rather develop their employees than getting some new people on board who would require a lot more training and might not be the right fit in the end. Some of our clients also organise shadowing days where you sit next to a colleague to try and familiarise yourself with a new way of working and new workflows. If you don’t think your employer is offering this, there is no harm in suggesting it yourself!
Attending classes and getting a professional certification can be useful too. I’m thinking of Prince 2 or Agile certification, for instance, which is sometimes required for Project Manager or Product Manager roles. And it’s always a bonus on your CV and a plus for your organisation. So again, do not hesitate to ask your line manager for training. If you can’t get backing from your company then there are free online courses like the MOOC (Massive Online Open Courses) offered by universities to help individuals to develop. Or affordable workshops and seminars you can go to. But you need to be ready to teach yourself new skills.
No matter how you chose to update your skills or what opportunities you are given, there is one thing you will always need, and it’s the right attitude.
- The right attitude
Something that we hear HR and in-house recruiters say all the time is: you need to be adaptable. The industry changes constantly, roles don’t tend to stay the same, there are so many factors impacting your professional career, politics, economics, etc. So the one thing you need to develop is your adaptability. Be curious and resilient. Be flexible. Don’t be put off by change, embrace it! It’s not always an easy thing to do. Some people are open to change naturally and actually really like it, for some others it’s more difficult to adapt. But if you want to evolve with the industry, you have to be flexible. The pace is fast. If you can’t demonstrate your willingness to move with the times, to upskill and learn new tech, understand new business models, then you won’t keep up. Your experience and the skills you already have are gold for publishers. But you need to be eager to learn more every day.
It’s not easy for everyone. It was certainly not easy for me. When I came to London, I knew nothing about recruitment. I had worked in publishing, I knew the industry quite well, yes. But recruitment doesn’t exist in France. So when I got hired at Atwood Tate, I had everything to learn. And I was really eager. I moved to London because I had in mind that things are different in England and that transferrable sills are actually a thing. And they are! In France it’s very difficult to move to another industry, if you studied Spanish, then you can be a Spanish teacher, or live in Spain, but that’s pretty much it! In England I do really think that we have the chance to move to different roles using these so called transferrable skills.
Of course I received a lot of training at Atwood Tate. And I keep getting training every step of the way, because if the publishing industry is changing, my job is changing too. And it’s all about keeping up-to-date and adapting to the market really. When I started three years ago, we didn’t need to dig out candidates, we had plenty of applications for our roles. It’s very different now. The market is very fast-paced and we constantly need to head hunt some candidates for some roles like Junior Production Controller for example which is a level where it’s really difficult to find people. So we have had to adapt too. Claire sends us on courses and we go to seminars, we talk to our candidates, our clients, we listen and we try to evolve. Some of us took a recruitment qualification recently. I’m not a person who loves change. But I had to learn to be more flexible and to be fair, I’ve only be more successful since then. More confident as well as I have developed a lot more skills than I thought I had.
To sum up I would say that you need a positive attitude and an open-mind to keep on top of things. More than a skillset, it’s a mind-set. You need to take ownership of their careers and be proactive. Jobs are changing and so is the industry, but it’s really up to you to keep learning and be open to trying new things.