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Wednesday, 22 June 2022

Training and skills in publishing now

BookBrunch, the publishing trade's daily news magazine, asked Petra Green, Head of the PTC, to share her thoughts on how the PTC is adapting to the changing needs of the industry and what training courses are available to publishers today. This is what she had to say:

Training is often described as a Cinderella industry – stuck in the corner and forgotten about, but2022 Petra Green utterly transformative when remembered and allowed to shine.

It’s more of a fair-weather aspect for most, with companies and individuals investing in themselves or their staff when times are good. When targets aren’t being hit or times are hard, then training is often the first item to be removed from the budget and the money saved.

The coronavirus pandemic – and beyond

At the Publishing Training Centre (PTC), the last two years have been a rollercoaster – first, as the covid-19 pandemic struck, then adapting to it, and now as we start to emerge from it. We decided quickly, back in April 2020, that our in-person training would need to become virtual. The PTC’s tutors were trained by a long-standing virtual trainer on how to deliver courses over Zoom – its advantages as well as its weaknesses. Delivering training remotely means you lose that close connection, and the chats during coffee breaks, but it does enable a much wider range of people to attend. On almost every open course, we have attendees from outside the UK, and across the country, including those unable travel to London for an early-morning start. Having lower prices for virtual training has helped too.

As we emerge from the pandemic, many companies are investing in their staff. They are taking the profits made from people reading so much during lockdowns and spending that on training. This is across the board, from small, independent publishers to larger, industry giants, and all sizes in between. Of course, this is good all round – for the companies and the staff concerned, the industry as a whole, and for our trainers and the PTC!

Covid has also changed the need for certain skills within the industry. The increased reliance on digital whilst people were stuck at home, has brought the need for digital skills to the fore. Companies are aware that that their readers are much more mobile and open to reading in different places and in different formats. Anything more technical or digital is in demand. But the need for core skills – excellent proofreading, copy-editing, copywriting, good grammar and so on – is still there. The fundamentals don’t go away.

There’s also a focus on diversity, equality and inclusion, with publishing finally catching up with other industries and realising that what it produces doesn’t reflect the world around it. Much of that stems from not having the right staff in place to commission and see what’s available. The PTC worked recently with PanMacmillan on a diversity training scheme to widen their pool of proofreaders and copy-editors. I’m hoping that other companies will run similar initiatives.

People management is another popular area, as companies realise that a major reason staff leave their job is not because of a lack of career progression – although that can be a reason – but because they don’t get on with their boss. Most people in publishing are promoted and told one day, ‘You’re a manager now’, without any advice, support or training to explain to them what that means, and how to be a good manager.

So what skills do people in publishing need today?

I’m often asked what top skills are required to work and thrive in the publishing industry. It’s hard to generalise across so many different functions, as each one demands different attributes – marketers need different skills from editors, who need different ones from finance people or digital project-managers. But in general, for those that would be useful in all roles, I'd say:

  • Communication. Publishing is a people business. There are always several people involved in putting a book, journal, website or other product together, so you need to know how to interact with people and keep them informed and involved. I'd include good written and spoken skills here too.
  • Time-management. Publishing is a very deadline-heavy industry. Books have clear milestones or key dates before they go to print, and then more dates and events once they're published. Marketing is all about sending out the right message at the right time. Being able to juggle and prioritise different tasks, to get things done on time, is crucial.
  • Market awareness. Many people think that publishing is about reading books and taking authors out to lunch. It is, for some (mostly editors and literary agents), but it's a business, and businesses are about making money. Understanding the market – what consumers want, what needs you are fulfilling – is essential.
  • Flexibility. If the pandemic showed us anything, it's that we need to be flexible to survive. If you can adapt, move quickly, take risks, try something new, then you're much likely to succeed than if you keep repeating what you've always done. There's value in that, but it's not a long-term strategy for growth, either as an individual or an organisation.

Keeping on top of trends

So how do you keep on top of industry trends and widen your skill set for the future?

Take some training, however limited. There are lots of good free options out there, if you can’t persuade your employer to invest in you. Or if you’re freelance, remember that any investment in training counts as a tax-deductible expense. FutureLearn have lots of short, informative courses on a whole range of topics, from soft skills like presenting to data and analytics. You can watch relevant TED talks on a range of topics. Google’s Digital Garage offers free learning content in digital, career development and data. LinkedIn Learning provides thousands of online courses to develop business, technology and creative skills, including a one-month free trial with full access to these courses.

And of course, if your company is prepared to invest in you, then find out about training courses in your areas of interest. BookMachine run short, targeted courses on a range of marketing, production and editorial topics. The Chartered Institute of Editing and Proofreading (CIEP) focus on editorial. At the PTC, we cover digital, editorial, marketing, people management, project management, rights and sales. You can choose from a quick e-learning module on a particular topic, like copyright, that takes a few hours, or an online course with a tutor via Zoom from ½ to 2 days, through to a longer-term distance-learning course on proofreading or other topics that you do at your own pace across a period of months.

Whatever type of training you take, remember that it’s an investment in you and your future career.

Petra Green, Head of the PTC