The talent deficit in content strategy

Sarah O'Keefe / Opinion6 Comments

Content strategy is taking hold across numerous organizations. Bad content is riskier and riskier because of the transparency and accountability in today’s social media–driven world.

But now, we have a new problem: a talent deficit in content strategy.

Our industry has talented people; it’s just that the demand for content strategists exceeds the available supply. Furthermore, we have an even bigger problem in writing, editing, and production. Enterprise content strategy very often means the introduction of professional-grade tools and workflows (such as XML, CMS, and rigorous terminology and style guides), but many content creators are unprepared for this new environment.

Technical deficit

On the technical side, writers need new skills, such as structured authoring, XML, DITA, and CMS usage. Editors—who move into information architecture roles—must understand how to apply metadata and how to build an effective set of metadata for specific requirements. Deep knowledge of reuse types and applying them is critical. An understanding of localization best practices is helpful for any global organization.

The most technical roles, XSLT stylesheet developers and CMS administrators, must be filled by individuals with a hybrid of IT and publishing skill sets.

Business analysis deficit

Organizations need to first understand their business goals and then use the identified goals to decide on an appropriate content strategy. Here, we face another major skill gap. Although lots of people understand that XML is useful, and some can spell out how XML might be useful, the ability to connect “useful things XML can do” to “what the business needs” is rare. Most publishing people love books. The business component is only of incidental interest.

This presents a problem (or maybe an opportunity) for content strategy consultants.

Why is this a problem

It’s a good time to be a content strategist, a writer with the right technical skills, a stylesheet developer, or a CMS administrator. From your point of view, there are tons of job opportunities, which likely means higher salaries.

When we look at the overall industry, though, we have a problem. Several of our clients have open positions that they are struggling to fill. They are having an especially difficult time finding information architects for DITA. If this continues, the benefits of a very challenging toolset (like DITA) may be outweighed by the lack of available staff. From an executive’s point of view, there are a lot of negatives: more skilled individuals command higher salaries and are hard to find.

Closing the gap

Mind the gap warning next to railroad tracks.

Be aware of the talent gap // flickr: cgpgrey

We won’t close the talent gap any time soon, but here are some suggestions for management:

  • Identify high-potential employees and support them in learning what they need.
  • Recognize that the best employers will get the best talent. If you are not a preferred employer, you may have a long road ahead.
  • Turnover is expensive. Do what you need to do to avoid it.

What’s needed is some really excellent training to start expanding the pipeline of qualified people.

Scriptorium job placement policy

Given the discussion about hiring and recruiting, it seems wise to include a note about our job placement policy.

As consultants, we have unique access to staff across a variety of companies. The tight market is leading to a lot of inquiries about job opportunities. To avoid conflicts of interest, we have a few simple rules:

  1. We do not poach staff from customers.
  2. We do not recruit staff from one customer to another customer.
  3. As long as there is no conflict with these first two items, we provide informal matchmaking assistance to our customers looking for candidates and to individuals seeking new positions. We do not charge for these services.

Are you facing a talent deficit? What’s your plan to address it?

Speaking of talent issues, I give you this gratuitous video:

About the Author

Sarah O'Keefe


Content strategy consultant and founder of Scriptorium Publishing. Bilingual English-German, voracious reader, water sports, knitting, and college basketball (go Blue Devils!). Aversions to raw tomatoes, eggplant, and checked baggage.

6 Comments on “The talent deficit in content strategy”

  1. Pingback: Tech Writer This Week for February 6, 2015 | TechWhirl

  2. Very insightful post that highlights the core and yet not-so-discussed issue. Generally, organizations are good in providing training on tools (and products, processes and workflow) and candidates too are good in learning tools. So technical deficit is relatively easily addressed.

    It is that the issue of Business Analysis deficit requires more attention. Not many organizations have a streamlined and goal-oriented process to address it, and so not many budding content strategists are capable to bridge the gap.

    You rightly say that training can help it, however it needs to be seen how responsive the organizations are for this change. And it again boils down to metrics, business, value, and ROI.

  3. How does one go about becoming a highly skilled content strategist? I ask because I am new to this world and have been working part time with very little if any outsider instruction or guidance. I really enjoy this line of work and would someday like to transition out of my current occupation to do content full time; however, I don’t know enough to justify quitting as I don’t believe I would make enough to support myself. Any suggestions would be welcome. Thanks for a great post.

    1. I think the answer at this point is learning on the job. There are content-strategy focused conferences that could also help.

  4. This is an excellent article. We use XML DITA in our team, but really only our Tools Engineer has the required Info Architect and technical skills to take advantage of the nuts and bolts power to leverage XML. We would be hard pressed to find an equivalent person to fill this role. Besides inspiring interest to learn the more technical side, the big contributing factor is workload. We have minimal staff, with maximum deliverables, therefore, time to learn is really limited. Fortunately, our company supports training, but unfortunately, our staffing gives us minimal time to take that training and leverage it.

  5. Pingback: Content Content podcast episode 7 – Curious about content featuring David Dylan Thomas | ed marsh dot com

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