I read today’s post by Sarah Sutherland in the On Firmer Ground blog, “The developing skill-employment disconnect in law libraries and what to do with it” with interest. Sarah Sutherland is Manager, Library Services of McMillan LLP in Vancouver and currently Vice President of the Vancouver Association of Law Libraries. In this post she argues that law libraries have been sheltered from technology changes as compared with others in the library industry, and have therefore as a group not developed the skill sets now needed, or which will be needed in the near future.
In my work as consultant advising to libraries and the legal industry, as well as teacher and parttime professor, I think about this quite a bit. Where is the legal industry heading? What skills will we need to meet the future? How will we all develop those skills?
Sarah points out that those who already have the skills needed are usually gainfully employed and so will cost more to recruit from other firms. A better option, she therefore suggests, is two-fold:
- develop existing staff
- when hiring new staff, hire the skill sets not just that you need today, but for the future.
I would add a corollary:
- when hiring new staff, hire those who have the aptitude to develop new skill sets.
Professional development plays a key role she says:
Part of the solution to this problem is for library managers and organizations to be open to the idea of training staff on the job and being open to providing more funding for professional development. Library staff should also take responsibility to develop this paradigm. Staff members can take the initiative and approach their employers with proposals to develop skills in anticipation of coming needs and changes. This will enable them to remain relevant and take advantage of some of the benefits of employment that are of most value to them in the form of professional development time and funding.
It always saddens me when I hear legal organizations not supporting staff to go to conferences because, really, they are just shooting their own organizations in the proverbial foot, putting them further behind where the industry is heading. In the world of law libraries it is often conference attendance that plays a big role in professional development. This is where we compare notes and learn from one another as a profession. I would encourage employers not to discount attendance just based on cost, but look at what is being discussed at the conference.
But we all learn in different ways. Other alternatives to conferences for professional development and learning new skill sets:
- continuing education offered at universities
- certificate programs in areas such as information management, records management and project management
- webinars from associations, vendors and other interest groups
- reading, reading reading! Blogs, articles, books and anything else you can get your hands on.
- working on projects, especially as part of a team, to expand skills and learn from those with the expertise. This could include in-house work projects or committee work such as within an association
- writing articles or blog posts
- speaking on a topic
- talking with and learning from people with expertise.
One thing I find is that employers–especially in the legal industry–tend to look for new staff who have already done the work they are hiring for. But, this does little to challenge and develop a staff member. I believe you are better to hire someone who has done work slightly more junior than what you are looking for, but who has shown an aptitude to catch on quickly and can learn. People need to be pushed outside their limits to advance, so hiring people completely inside their comfort zone means they likely will not be challenged, and therefore could become complacent and disinclined to learn.
What are your thoughts–are you seeing a disconnect with skill sets? If so, what can we do to improve the situation?