It's time for publishing to embrace apprenticeships

Ruth Howells
Opinion - Publishing Wednesday, 04 April 2018

Ruth Howells introduces a seminar on social mobility and apprenticeships talking place at the London Book Fair next week

Publishing has been under the spotlight lately in relation to inclusivity and diversity - of both workforce and content. In the last month, this light has shone particularly brightly (and rightly) on the gender pay gap issue, but this focus should not take our attention away from other inclusivity issues in the sector.

There are many excellent initiatives out there, from publishers large and small, that seek in some way to make the sector more representative of the population at large. There are also some brilliant organisations - Creative Access among them - working with publishers to bring in a broader cross-section of talented young people to the industry.

Apprenticeships have been framed by successive governments as key to filling skills gaps, growing the economy and as an engine of social mobility. By combining practical training in a paid job with study, they can be a brilliant option for people who have chosen not to go to university, and can also have huge benefits for employers.

Despite these advantages, historically apprenticeships in publishing have been relatively rare. Cambridge University Press has been employing apprentices since 2012, and its scheme has seen talented people go on to gain permanent employment. Other publishers do also employ apprentices, but the numbers are still quite low overall.

There has been much fanfare about the pledge to have 3 million apprenticeship "starts" by 2020, and reforming the system so that more sectors are employing apprentices and in greater numbers. With a view to increasing both the quality and the quantity of apprenticeships, the apprenticeship levy was introduced.

Essentially, if you're an employer with a pay bill over £3 million each year, you must pay the apprenticeship levy - a tax of 0.5% of the pay bill over that amount - and will have started doing so from 6 April 2017.

This income is stored in individual employers' digital accounts, which may then be accessed to fund external training of apprentices. There is an inevitable raft of government guidance around the levy and its implementation that has taken employers some getting to grips with.

The idea behind the levy is that it will help to deliver new apprenticeships and it will support quality training by putting employers at the centre of the system. Employers who are committed to training will be able to get back more than they put in by training sufficient numbers of apprentices.

The government's introduction of the levy gave a new impetus to look at apprenticeships within publishing, and the Publishers Association has been working with our members to establish a new Publishing Assistant apprenticeship standard for the industry. Our hope is that this standard, the first one specific to publishing, will encourage a greater number of publishers to employ apprentices and increase the number of apprentices in the industry overall.

An apprenticeship standard is only available for delivery when both the standard and assessment plan have been approved and a funding band has been assigned. At the time of writing this article, the Publishing Assistant standard is just waiting for the assessment plan to be finally approved and funding band assigned. It has been a long process, but once we are through those final hurdles, the standard will be available to use.

This has only been possible through the hard work of the brilliant trailblazer employer group involved in creating the standard, which included Cambridge University Press, Faber & Faber, Walker Books, Penguin Random House, Hachette, Pearson, SAGE Publishing, Simon & Schuster, HarperCollins, Wiley, Bloomsbury, Scholastic, Sweet Cherry, Jessica Kingsley and KoganPage.

Publishing Assistants will provide support for specific areas across all key parts of the publishing process from the conception of book, digital product, journal or other product (such as educational resources), through to the production, in a variety of paper and digital formats, and then to support the sales, marketing and publicity processes.

The standard states that they will usually be involved with aspects of publishing that include editorial, marketing, sales, publicity, production, rights or digital. They will have an awareness or skills which stretch across the publishing process, particularly in smaller organisations. They will typically report to an editorial manager, and be involved with editing, proofreading and briefing external stakeholders about their work and the work of colleagues.

In different organisations the actual job title may vary, and may include editorial sssistant, marketing assistant, publicity assistant, production assistant, rights assistant or contracts assistant. The standard has been designed to be flexible and adaptable to the specific needs of the recruiting publisher.

Once in use, we hope this will mark a significant tipping point, and that apprentices will begin to be employed much more widely across the publishing industry.

Apprenticeships are not the answer to social mobility, and they are not the answer to a more inclusive publishing industry. But they form part of the answers to both. We hope that 2018 will be the year where the industry starts to really embrace apprenticeships.

Social Mobility, Apprenticeships and Broadening the Talent Search for UK Publishing
Wednesday 11 April, 11:30-12:30
Olympia Room Grand Hall
Organised by the Publishers Association, sponsored by Publishers' Licensing Services
Chaired by Ruth Howells, head of communications, the Publishers Association

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