How Will Global Publishing be Affected by the Great Resignation?
In my conversations for From Response to Recovery and How Global Publishing Can Channel Solidarity Into Opportunity, the implications of pandemic-induced digital acceleration on global publishing workforce skills has featured prominently. With a history of reliance on freelancers and contractors, the publishing industry was quick to embrace flexible work modalities, like work from home, in the pandemic. In fact, early indications suggest one enduring legacy of the pandemic on global publishing may be more widespread adoption of flexible work to access dispersed, high-quality talent and increased reliance on project-based work and outsourcing.
Since the end of 2020, I have had conversations with more than 90 senior publishing ecosystem executives on the unfolding global publishing recovery story. Increasingly, however, I am concerned that the views of the broader publishing workforce have not been adequately voiced. Similar to the lack of data on what publishing’s post-pandemic story will be, there is an equally alarming dearth of data about how the publishing workforce will be impacted as the industry recovers. Emerging norms around remote work have the potential to significantly impact publishing firm operations, workplace culture, and workforce skills requirements.
The Great Resignation: Have we Overlooked the Publishing Workforce?
Consider this imperfect but potentially telling statistic from the United States — the largest publishing market in the world. In August, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the number of employees who quit their jobs in the Arts, Entertainment, and Recreation sector in a single month broke an all-time high. Similar statistics from the OECD show that this isn’t just a problem isolated to the United States. OECD statistics also show that the creative industries globally have been hit hard by reduced hours, job destruction, and labor market exits. These alarming statistics suggest the Great Resignation may be the next big challenge global publishing will need to confront.
Based on emerging evidence from cross-industry employee surveys, one broad conclusion which seems generalizable to the publishing workforce is that employees who worked remotely during the pandemic don’t want to simply go back to the status quo. Several studies show that a significant number of employees — upwards of 40% or more based on the survey consulted — would rather look for a new employer than give up remote work. In addition to highlighting the importance of flexibility, these studies also show organizational cultures rooted in employee well-being are increasingly critical.
At the same time, up-skilling and re-skilling to emerging industry demands is also necessary to retain and support employees in acquiring new skills that lead to advancement and transition into more satisfying roles. IPA’s initial report on the impact of the pandemic on global publishing found that cancellation of book fairs, closure of book shops, and slowing institutional sales pushed many publishers towards impromptu digital transformations. What’s becoming clearer is that the use of tech, digitization, and new forms of working that emerged as lockdown workarounds seem likely to continue. In response, the publishing workforce will require significant upskilling and reskilling in digital skills like ebook and audio book development, online selling, digital and social media marketing, producing online events, digitizing association members services, and other emerging digital competencies.
The International Publishers Association’s Response to the Great Resignation
One of my first initiatives as International Publishers Association (IPA) President was to form a taskforce — now called the International Sustainable Publishing and Industry Resilience (Inspire) Taskforce — to support members and promote solidarity in addressing pandemic-induced industry challenges. So far, the Taskforce has conducted an extensive industry consultation to develop the Inspire Plan, which was recently launched at Frankfurt Book Fair, and gained the commitment of 50+ publishing ecosystem stakeholders to collaborate on the 10 broad objectives of the Inspire Charter.
Recognizing the need for capacity building, up-skilling, and re-skilling of the publishing workforce, the Taskforce has also been working on the IPA Academy in parallel with efforts like the Inspire Charter and Plan to reimagine the future of publishing. The Academy is being developed as a one-stop portal for publishing workforce skills development. It has emerged as the IPA’s go-to strategy in supporting its members and global publishing in responding to the Great Resignation’s evolving impact on our industry.
The Academy will initially provide live streamed training and modular courses for IPA members and the broader publishing ecosystem through delivery partners. Partnership discussions are currently being held with world-leading capacity building institutions like WIPO, New York University, and Oxford Brookes University. With a target launch by the end of the year, the portal will include training and resources on critical organizational competencies, like strategy and operations, digital skills, such as online marketing, and IPA advocacy priorities like establishing and managing a national publishers association.
The Academy will support IPA members and the publishing ecosystem with flexible, on-demand learning opportunities and personal learning paths to increase publishing workforce engagement. As a key resource for IPA’s critical constituencies to develop highly qualified, well-trained workforces, the Academy will enable members and partners to be better equipped to handle future challenges as markets evolve in response to the Great Resignation.
Realizing the Potential of this Moment
In the past, there was significant social stigma that accompanied quitting a job. These days are over. Employees are now putting a higher premium on their personal lives and priorities. Global publishing is not immune to the Great Resignation, and it’s time we started a dialogue about how to realize the potential of the changing relationship between employees and employers.
The best statistics we have show that the Great Resignation is gaining pace and cutting across all industries. This time of reconsideration offers a inflection point that global publishing can use to future-proof our industry. Focusing on workforce development is one of the best ways the industry can use the potential of this moment.