BookBrunch | Training and skill drain: affecting productivity in publishing

bbtwitter_400x400Having heard some pretty serious stats about training given to newbie publishers lately, I felt inspired to write a piece about the Autumn Statement, productivity, and the shift in attitude towards training and skill-building support that needs to happen in publishing. The full article is also FREE to read over on BookBrunch. Here’s a snippet:

Training and skill drain: affecting productivity in publishing

Research shows that publishers are failing to invest in the skills they need

In his Autumn Statement last week, Chancellor Philip Hammond brought attention to Britain’s sub-par productivity. Our output per unit of input lags 30% behind other economies such as the US and Germany: in the time it takes a German worker to make £1.35, a British worker will make only £1.

Hammond’s remedy involves a £23bn National Productivity Investment Fund, which will be used for the most part to invest in infrastructure such as roads and affordable housing. However, fixing productivity involves more than this kind of investment. As Katie Allen pointed out in the Guardian over the weekend, “when it comes to appearing to be doing something about the productivity puzzle it is far easier to talk about roads than the thorny issue of Britain’s addiction to low-paid, low-skilled work”. This is an issue that comes down to attitude.

The current business climate in the UK tends towards conservative investment in workers – in pay, for example. Employees are often paid to work longer hours for less money than their counterparts in more productive countries. This despite the fact that numerous studies, including recent research undertaken by the Living Wage Foundation, show that investment in higher wages creates a significant increase in productivity.

This increase happens for a number of reasons, not least of them that workers are more likely to remain with the same employer for a longer time, building up their skillsets. Workers with the right, well-honed skills are able to perform their job to a higher quality and with more efficiency, boosting productivity hugely.

In publishing, far from investing in the skills that would make the industry more productive, we are facing a skill drain.

In June, The Book Trade Charity (BTBS) and hosted an evening on ageism in publishing. It was revealed that many of publishing’s older, more skilled and experienced workers were “pushed out” of employment as their careers progressed, partly to make room for younger workers who cost proportionally less to the employer. This process is causing a skill drain and, what’s more, has led to a disruption in naturally-occurring mentorship processes that allow skills to be passed on.

In this environment, training should be more important than ever. However, industry surveys undertaken by show that external training provided by publishers to employees dropped by 10.8% between 2008 and 2013. It seems this isn’t just a reaction to the 2008 financial crisis: it is an ongoing trend that stretches at least as far back as the turn of the century: in 2013, 21.2% of respondents said they had never trained at all, a 6% rise on the 15.2% from 2008, and an 8% rise on 2002’s 13.2%.

Though stats since 2008 are lacking, this attitude towards skills appears to have stuck. Peter McKay of the Publishing Training Centre (PTC) recently revealed that one big five publisher had decided to stop sending employees to the PTC’s courses, because they “take too long”. In light of the fact that the average PTC course takes just two to three intensive days, this seems short-sighted.

Worse still, the biggest drop in training has been seen in the fresh blood of the industry, the 19-30 age group. Of those respondents, 16.7% said they received training in their first year of employment, where arguably training is needed the most, a fall from 22.4% five years earlier. Suzanne Collier of has speculated that this drop may be connected to the rise of publishing MAs, but even so she admits the trend is concerning.

“It’s such a false economy,” she said. “Productivity is in the state it’s in in the UK because we’re not training people properly. We don’t let people get on with their jobs, they’re just muddling through and often trying to tackle problems that have already been solved – they just don’t know it…” [READ MORE FOR FREE ON BOOKBRUNCH]