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23 March 2022

IPA Academy: Resolving global publishing’s skills gap

The global pandemic nudged the publishing ecosystem to rapidly adopt digital technologies to keep books in the hands of readers. These digital workarounds accelerated global publishing industry trends that have been evolving at a much slower pace. About 15 years ago, digital disruptions like e-readers, audiobooks, and online sales started to affect the types of skills required to be successful in the publishing industry. Whereas discussions about the publishing workforce skills gap generally focused on the digital skills needed to adapt to online sales and digital formats, the global pandemic exposed a skills deficiency that runs much deeper.

The global pandemic is an industry inflection point that will lead to more abrupt market shifts than publishing has previously experienced, producing a skills gap that extends far beyond digital skills. Of course, workforce skills needs differ by market maturity and digital development, with developing markets generally requiring more support. However, I believe current industry concerns about the skills gap differ significantly from previous discussions. The publishing ecosystem now faces the challenge of upskilling and adapting to Millennial and Gen Z employees who are tech savvy, independent, and have a unique perspective on how to define success in life and the workforce.

Over the last two years, I have spoken to over 150 senior publishing industry executives – including publishing houses, distributors, authors, educators, book fairs, and literacy and free-expression advocates – in more than 40 countries. These discussions formed the basis for the International Publishing Association (IPA)’s groundbreaking research on the impact of the global pandemic on publishing and the workforce skills development needs to enhance industry resilience and sustainability.


Bridging the publishing workforce skills gap

In February 2021, IPA adopted the recommendations from its From Response to Recovery study, establishing the Inspire Initiative, to lead global publishing’s recovery and create the IPA Academy. With development starting in March 2021, the IPA Academy was envisioned to support members in developing core business skills to build more resilient and sustainable organizations as well as develop new leadership and management skills to capitalize on post-pandemic opportunities.

The IPA Academy, which was soft-launched on 7 March 2022, provides publishers with the tools to adapt to a quickly changing market in which the full impact of the global pandemic is still not clear. The Academy is unique in that it seeks to meet the skills development needs of IPA members and their members in both developed and developing publishing markets.

The Academy is initially focusing on the priority skills development needs of national publishers associations and publishers uncovered in IPA’s research. It offers emerging publishing ecosystems the foundational skills to respond to digital acceleration, while those in more developed markets can build competencies in emerging fields at the cutting edge of the industry like implementing sustainable business practices.


Going live

With the generous sponsorship of the Sharjah Book Authority, the IPA Academy was soft launched with courses co-developed with content partners like the Center for Publishing at New York University, Oxford International Centre for Publishing, and the Publishing Training Centre. In addition to providing early access to IPA members, the Academy is also open to an estimated 15,000 publishers who are members of IPA’s members. In this way, the Academy is already reaching IPA members and publishers in more than 70 countries. Initial Academy offerings, which include talks by leading industry executives and specialized, modular publishing skills courses, will be broadened quickly in response to initial user feedback.

I am very happy to work with IPA Academy partners who see how critical publishing workforce skills development is to the industry’s post-pandemic recovery. Leading the IPA Academy’s development has provided me with an opportunity to engage senior publishing executives globally on the future of our industry and the skills it will take to get there. From these discussions, I learned that, while some publishing markets have fully recovered, other markets still face a very tenuous situation in building the workforce skills and competencies to rebound.

Throughout the pandemic, I have been inspired by many examples from the publishing industry in leveraging agility and ingenuity to keep books in the hands of readers in an environment of rapid, uncertain change. This innovation in adversity has pushed me to embrace business model pivots, seek learnings from others, and share my knowledge. Our colleagues across the publishing industry need our support now more than ever, and the IPA Academy is just one way to step up to the challenge.

Update: The IPA Academy closed on 31 October 2023.

Bodour Al Qasimi

Bodour Al Qasimi is President of the International Publishers Association (IPA), online at and on twitter @IntPublishers.

The IPA Academy closed on 31 October 2023.