Why publishing skills should be a priority for our future workforce

Why publishing skills should be a priority for our future workforce

GCSEs are under attack and new ways are being considered to prepare our future citizens, to be both contributors to the economy and contented individuals. But what skills are needed and how are they best taught? Those itemised at conferences about the workforce of the future tend to be rather nebulous: independence of thought, willingness to collaborate, resilience and mental agility. 

Within universities the same debate is rolling, particularly around the extent to which institutions are responsible for equipping their students not only with subject understanding but the motivation and skills to secure and retain a job.

What does this mean for those aspiring to enter the publishing world? Yes, a fresh questioning of exactly what skills publishing careers require - but also a move in the other direction: a rallying call to better value and spread publishing skills into other industries, from social enterprise to tech.

For a long time, publishing has been a notoriously traditional industry; long content to rely on old-fashioned recruitment practices that supported the status quo. Same college, same degree, requisite internship…when can you start?

But profession-orientated fields such as Publishing Studies have already started to disrupt this linear process. Their blend of academic understanding with the highest level of professional practice equip students to not only function in their career of choice but to deal with problems as yet unanticipated. And the relevance of what they absorb extends far beyond the trade publishing to which most initially aspire – it’s a highly transferrable skillset.

Identifying which arguments to present, and in which order, is helpful in a variety of different work situations from HR to business development, ecclesiastical ministry to sports medicine. In a difficult meeting, which piece of proof will best make the case when so many are relevant? The ability to summarise the communicable pros for an agreed course of action (and anticipate principle objections) are universally useful skills. And as to the importance of how to tell a story, well that’s everywhere, from social media marketing to mass-market advertising through which agencies seek to narrate a brand; drawing people in through selective release of information.

Andrew Hansen, MD of Prestel Publishing, commented: ‘Everything on the internet is a story, and those sharing information have had to think about how to grab attention. This demands brevity, language and editorial skills; an ability to think about how to make ideas engaging and the best medium through which to present them.’

The usefulness of this extends well beyond publishing and today, at Kingston, we see our students working for charities and NGOs, developing literacy support for under-served communities and becoming teachers. Used to spotting markets with unserved needs and the messages likely to be best understood, they have a really valuable skillset for changing the world.

Finally Publishing Studies is encouraging industry professionals to engage with fresh academic research in market exploration and decision-making. We’ve found that inviting publishers to supervise a dissertation not only leads to the development of a project truly relevant to the industry, but to ensuring industry knowledge is retained. Mentors tend to identify with themselves at an earlier evolutionary stage, and hence to want to support and develop – in ways that circumnavigate identikit recruitment. It’s a powerful demonstration that collaboration between generations and backgrounds leads to improved understanding. A side-effect has been encouraging tutors back into study themselves, with all the associated benefits to self-motivation and self-esteem that come from learning (at any age).

Today’s industry background noise is a contented murmur that print books really are on the rise and e-books in decline. ‘Diversity’ and ‘inclusion’ are continually referenced but one only has to look at the industry en masse to see just how far there is to go. I’ve been reviewing our current MA cohort’s proposed dissertation topics; the issues they see as vital to the industry’s future and on which they want to spend the next five months. To them, diversity is a no brainer not a badge. The need for fairer access is obvious but the business argument is just as compelling.

If publishers’ market is potentially the whole of society, then the ability to understand communities other than your own, and get unheard voices noticed, has immense economic and social value. We need to start promoting publishing careers and skills as much more urgent, powerful and more widely applicable pursuits than we do now.

If you would like to know more about working with a dissertation student on a publishing-related research project, please come to Kingston for the afternoon on 1st April 2019. Email A.baverstock@kingston.ac.uk for more information