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What can we do to better nurture early career talent? Image via Pixabay.

Editor’s Note: This post is by Emma Brink and Matt Cooper, who are co-chairs of the Society for Scholarly Publishing’s (SSP’s) Early Career Subcommittee and members of the Professional Development Committee. They presented the findings of a survey aimed at early career professionals at SSP 2016 in Vancouver. Both are Associate Editors at Wiley.

On February 2nd, 2016, the Early Career Subcommittee (a subset of the Society for Scholarly Publishing’s Professional Development Committee) deployed a 30-day, 34-question survey via the SSP Member Email List, SSP Non-Member Email List, LinkedIn, Twitter, and a Press Release, and  garnered results from 507 Early-Career Professional (ECP) respondents. The data was analyzed by the Early Career Subcommittee (ECSC), and presented at SSP’s 38th Annual Meeting in Vancouver, on June 3rd, 2016, under the title “Sharing the Future Voices…” It was, in a word, delightful.

On the day of the presentation, we expected to see a group of eager ECPs looking back at us, ready to take in the results of the survey addressing their professional needs. Instead we faced something much better: an audience of managers and mid- to senior-level colleagues, all hoping to assist and develop the ECPs whom they manage. Having already heard from 507 ECPs, it was encouraging that the people who most need to hear what ECPs have to say were sitting in the room.

The phrase “Early Career” may seem to imply a younger generation of employees, but it was important to the ECSC to distinguish between work experience and age as it was inherent to the survey’s mission: to realize the current needs of ECPs regardless of their chronological ages, to survey the resources available to them, and to learn how to prepare ECPs for a long and fulfilling career. The respondents, who had from zero to ten years of experience, ranged in age from 21 to 63 years old, with an average age of 30. The survey questions focused on areas of information valuable to SSP and employers of ECPs, such as industry experience, professional development, and organizational benefits.

Below we will summarize some of the more interesting and revealing responses to our survey questions and discuss the implications of these findings.

A Role in One

Being new to the industry, it was not a surprise that a high percentage of ECPs (46%) list “Finding the right role” as their greatest challenge in their early careers. Concerns about finding the right career path (42%), and finding the right organization (33%) follow closely behind. Digging further, there is no direct correlation between these results and the varying sectors that respondents identified as the areas they are most interested in pursuing in their careers (Editorial, Marketing, Sales, Technology, Finance, Product Development, Publishing/Operations, Management/Executive, Production, None of the Above, and “I am looking to leave the industry”).  In other words, finding the right role is a challenge for all ECPs regardless of discipline.

Most readers will relate to some level of uncertainty from early in their careers, but, despite these reservations, ECPs indicate that the “end goal” that best describes their engagement with an industry organization such as SSP has to do with development and networking, rather than using the organization to secure a new job: the top three selections — “Professional Development Training” (78%), “Meeting New Individuals within the industry” (64%) and “Collaboration and the exchange of ideas” (59%) — far outranked the bottom three: “New position at a new company” (32%), “New role within my current company (new department)” (17%), and “Collecting potential business leads for my current employer” (19%).

You’re a Professional…Now What?

Given the challenges that ECPs face when searching for the right position or organization, employers should perhaps be asking themselves what expectations or information (or lack thereof) ECPs possess when accepting a job. Upon entering academic publishing, a staggering 40% of ECPs apply for a position found by coincidence, or because a job search engine matched the job to their skillset. Only 27% of ECP respondents reported actively pursuing an earlier interest in publishing, while another 26%were referred by peers currently employed in the industry, an advisor, a mentor, a professor, or a career service. The survey results suggest that the average ECP does not enter his or her first job with significant previous knowledge of the industry, nor do they seek out specific positions within the industry, but instead rely on job searches and recommendations from others. With many ECPs falling into their careers, this begs the question: how do we make our industry more attractive to young talent? If ECPs are not aware of the industry, and the diverse skills and experience they can develop in this field, how can we inform the job market of the available opportunities?

Furthermore, prior to their first full-time position in scholarly publishing, just over half of ECPs do not have previous industry experience, be it as a part-time employee, temp, intern or via an educational program such as a degree or certificate program. That’s not surprising when you consider that only 27% know they want to be in scholarly publishing when entering the job market, but this also presents a problem to the industry. An ECP who actively pursues a career in academic publishing is 20% more likely to gain experience through an education program or temporary position, such as an internship, before landing a full-time position in the industry, and when we tell you that 95% of ECPs with previous experience believe it led directly to a full-time position, it seems obvious that a lack of industry awareness in the job market is causing employers to miss out on genuine interest and talent. Interestingly enough, of the ECPs with previous experience in one of the aforementioned roles, the majority of it was on-the-job experience (77%), rather than by way of a degree or certificate program (29% and 9% respectively).

Skills Skills Skills

ECPs show a strong interest in professional development — the majority of ECP respondents attend one to three training and/or development opportunities per year, with 20% attending four to six — however, continuing education is not part of that development. Continuing education certificates are rated the least useful resource among ECPs, and graduate school is rated the least important career objective among ECPs with a bachelor’s degree. It came as no surprise that the graduate school rating drops as respondents’ years of experience increase (ECSC Analysis: people grow fond of their paychecks). Training opportunities are rated the most valuable resource. In order to track which subjects ECPs look for in training opportunities, we asked respondents to select which skills they felt would be most useful to obtain over the next ten years of their careers in publishing. Project management (60%), management (60%), technology (54%), and networking (49%) were identified as the top skills; however, during the data analysis it was obvious that significant fluctuations in topic rankings exist between respondents with varying years of experience (YOE). In ECPs with

  • 0-2 YOE — Management drops by 5%, whereas Project management, Communication skills, and Presentation skills increased by 9% and Networking by 11%;
  • 2-5 YOE — There is a 5% drop in Tech skills, though it remains number three on the list;
  • 5-10 YOE — Project Management drops 11%, and there is a 5% and 6% increase in Management and Finance/Business Acumen training, respectively.

ECPs in the first few years of their career value soft skills that serve as a foundation for experience and professional learning, whereas the more veteran ECPs lean towards hard business skills.

Development Availability

Here is a statistic that will likely knock the wind out of you: we asked respondents to indicate what initiatives their employers make available to them, and only 32% offer “ongoing training about industry trends.” Likewise, only one in five employers offers management training (the #2 skill ECPs feel would be most useful over the next ten years of their career), and only 6% (six percent!) of employers offer networking training (the fourth most-desired skill). To play devil’s advocate, let’s assume these responses are misinformed, and that in fact many employers offer these types of training, but ECPs are simply unaware of the resources available to them: if ongoing training is available to ECPs (tree), but the majority do not know of, or are not made aware of, these opportunities (woods), does any professional education or skill learning occur (sound)? While there could be funding for these types of training and experiences, they aren’t advertised in order for ECPs to take advantage of them.

Money doesn’t buy happiness … but it does buy Webinars

If employers are unable to provide training opportunities through the company, another option is to provide ECPs with funding to get the training they need through third-party resources. According to ECPs, 72% of their employers have funds in place for them to attend industry meetings or networking events, and 67% have funds for them to attend development opportunities. While this is a strong majority, it seems unfortunate that the number is below 100%. On the other hand, travel is expensive and budgets are tight, and sending large groups of interested ECPs to industry events and training sessions may be next to impossible, especially for smaller organizations.

Of course, there are alternatives that help to balance the gains and the costs. 69% of ECPs have attended an industry-related webinar, but here’s the kicker: only 2% of them pay out of pocket. 50% of ECPs have attended a webinar paid for by their employer, and another 42% have attended a free webinar. While many ECPs may be unwilling or unable to fork out the cash themselves, for employers, webinars are a cheap alternative to sending ECPs to seminars on location. When you consider that 45% of ECPs rated webinar training as one of the top three SSP outreach efforts most useful to them, ranking higher than local seminars, networking events and annual meetings, the gains may begin to outweigh the costs for employer-funded online development opportunities.

If 72% of ECPs have funding in place through their employer to attend industry or networking events, it is important that they be equipped with the right skills to take full advantage of those opportunities. Social media seminars (12%), public speaking seminars (12%), and networking best practices (6%) are by far the least frequently offered initiatives by employers, but these are the types of skills that would be most useful to ECPs at industry events, seminars, and annual meetings. Essentially, ECPs are sent to industry meetings without the appropriate tools to fully capitalize on these opportunities and validate the costs to their employers.

Information Overload

Contrary to what we anticipated, social media is not the main source of information and learning for ECPs. Colleagues are! 78% of ECPs cite peers and colleagues as their most valuable education sources, 34% higher than the highest-cited social media platform (Twitter). Contrary to many of the prevailing assumptions about millennials, ECPs in our field value direct interpersonal communication above everything else as a means of learning. Their desire for resources and information about the field stretches from the expected (colleagues, the internet, industry events) to the less-expected (email listservs and e-newsletters), but whatever the source, ECPs’ desire for information appears to be boundless.

It’s On All of Us

Despite all of the effort being made to attract and encourage ECPs in scholarly publishing, there are still gaps to be filled and needs to be addressed. From this survey we learned that ECPs in scholarly publishing are not simply millennials addicted to social media; that the issues facing ECPs are not exclusive to them; and that mid-level managers are invested in these topics and need to be supported too. We heard that ECPs need to take advantage of more opportunities while leadership needs to give them more opportunities to do so. This is an equal and joint responsibility that includes all professionals in our industry. The more we support each other the more we will attract the best of the best to our field. The opportunities and challenges are on all of us.

If you would like to listen to the full presentation, follow this link to the SSP site


4 Thoughts on "The Early Career Professionals are All Right: Discussing the Findings of the 2016 SSP Early Career Professional Survey"

I can’t help wondering if the answers to the initial questions reflect the fact that many jobs requiring very specific skills, like book design and copyediting, are now being done by free-lancers rather than permanent staff.

Thanks for this. It’s great to be taking early career issues so seriously as a profession, and always nice to hear good news! Were there any findings that touched on issues of equity, diversity, or inclusion?

Thanks, Roger. We did not survey on those topics, but they are very near and dear to the Early Career Subcommittee. We have plans to address the issue of diversity in the industry separately through SSP initiatives.

Many of these conclusions are identical to what a recent report from CIBER Research funded by the Publishers Research Consortium will soon reveal. This study interviewed early career researchers in the sciences and social sciences across a range of countries. This is not really surprising: scholars are also human beings. For the project see http://www.ciber-research.eu/harbingers.html and soon the PRC site.

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