Transferable Skills

Like policemen, the winners of the Customer Direct awards seem to get younger every year. Most of the people collecting their gongs this time round were almost certainly in short trousers the first time I picked up one of these trophies.

That’s good, as it means that the industry has a number of bright, young, dynamic individuals coming into it and setting new standards. This is the generation who have grown up with the interweb and haven’t had to shoehorn analogue attitudes into a digital present. Again, that’s good, but it contains the danger that as skills become more transferable between industries, so publishing will have to work harder to keep its best performers.

Publishing always used to score highly with graduates because it was interesting, you were in a cool business (“I’m in publishing” always had more cachet than “I’m in accountancy”), you got given more responsibility earlier, and you got invites to some great parties. Yes, the money was terrible, but that didn’t seem to matter too much; if you wanted to earn more there were plenty of other publishing companies that you could move to.

It’s a bit different now. Yes, we still take in lots of bright young things and give them lots of work and responsibility and pay them bugger all, but the horizons for all of us in the industry have narrowed. There are fewer companies, fewer jobs and fewer perks (and fewer parties). I rarely meet people in publishing firms who are actually having fun.

Looking through my LinkedIn contacts, a lot of the twenty-somethings that I knew have left publishing. Their marketing skills and their digital knowledge means that they can find work in all sorts of ecommerce businesses – retail, finance, travel, property, technology. They get more money, more holidays and perks, and have a more defined career path.

In some ways this might be the hidden threat to the future of magazines. Transferable skills mean that people do transfer, and if they’re paid more, get better conditions and are in a growth industry, who isn’t going to move?

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