Bridget Shine explains how new professional development resources are helping to create better pathways through publishing
In tune with the current international climate, the UK publishing industry has been undergoing a period of introspection. On top of a succession of reports indicating the lack of ethnic diversity across the sector, recent research has suggested that publishing is the preserve of the well off, with new recruits drawn from middle class backgrounds and with the financial support necessary to work in London and the south east, where jobs are concentrated. "The publishing industry seems to be from another century," said Justin Webb in a discussion on Radio 4's Today programme.
This is a surprising and inaccurate generalisation that ignores the many hundreds of independent publishers spread across all four countries of the UK. From the north of Scotland to the tip of Cornwall, members of the Independent Publishers Guild (IPG) are publishing an incredible range of content and employing many thousands of people from a multitude of backgrounds. They are the experts in their fields and the lifeblood of publishing.
The IPG celebrates the rich diversity of the independent sector every year at our Independent Publishing Awards, which highlight the enormous contributions that our members make to the UK's culture and economy. We're looking forward to celebrating our next set of winners at the 2019 awards, which will be presented by Sindhu Vhee during our Spring Conference on 2 May.
This is not to deny that publishers face significant challenges in attracting and nurturing talent, whatever their size, location or specialism. A couple of years ago our research into members' priorities highlighted an urgent need for support in improving the skills of their staff - not just so they can make themselves better businesses, but so young publishers can broaden their expertise and progress their careers. While some of our members have the resources for in-house or external training, many others struggle to find the time and money for it. And across the board, when companies need to tighten their belts, training seems to be one of the first things to fall by the wayside.
Add to the mix the seismic change that has swept publishing in recent years, and the need for upskilling was clearly greater than ever. We responded by developing a strategy for training that grew into the IPG Skills Hub, a major portal of training resources that is available to all members of staff at every IPG member. Free and unlimited access removes the hurdles to training, and online hosting means content is always available, regardless of publishers' geographical locations or working patterns.
Another key characteristic of the Skills Hub is that the bulk of the content is written by our members and for our members. Independent publishers have a remarkable camaraderie, and the Skills Hub celebrates their willingness to help one another. It hosts resources from publishers and suppliers who are experts in their fields, and draws on content that is so generously shared at our popular conferences and events.
Some publishing initiatives sound impressive and worthy while never fulfilling their potential - but that's not been the case with the Skills Hub. Since launching two years ago, it has exceeded our targets and expectations, and has grown into a rich source of nearly 100 different pieces of training content. Multi-module courses in publicity and financial management, timely and practical resources to support dignity at work, snappy tips for business strategies and increasing sales - all this and so much more is available on demand in a few clicks.
Members tell us they use the Skills Hub for things like inductions and appraisal follow-ups as well as ongoing professional development, and some say that it pays for the cost of IPG membership by itself. We are hugely grateful to everyone who has contributed content, because it shows the publishing industry at its best: collegiate, generous and egalitarian. And by transforming the way our members look after their people, it dismantles some of the most significant barriers to access and progression in the world of publishing.
Bridget Shine is chief executive of the Independent Publishers Guild.
This article first appeared in the Publishers Weekly/BookBrunch London Book Fair Show Daily.