[I know I’m a little late with this]…
Recently the PRCA and Pearson in Practice announced that they will be leading the development of an apprenticeship programme for the public relations industry. The scheme aims to generate 600 apprenticeship roles within the PR industry over a three-year period and equip non-graduates with a clear, structured and industry recognised path into the industry.
So what does this mean for the industry, university students and employers?
The PR industry is huge, and contributes around £7.5bn to the UK economy every year. It is a highly trained specialised industry and with the recent rise in tuition fees there is a danger of the size of the industry shrinking and contributing less. The apprentice scheme will hopefully ensure a steady stream of high calibre professionals for the industry, and will show the advantages of vocational education. This will in turn create a more diverse industry, offering the career path and its benefits to those whom may not have heard of it, but still hold a unique and special set of skills applicable to PR.
As my director at Wildwood PR, Jeff Hayward, relates, there are companies out there with an open mind: “I think the scheme is fantastic.” Comments Jeff. “As an organization we have always been the recipients of the benefits of graduate employees, and our staff have always brought professionalism, independence and organizational skills they have learnt at University to the workplace. However, in recent economic times we have felt the strain of the diminishing employment market and truly believe all companies should be open to hiring apprenticeship-trained PR employees. Not only will it bring a strong diversity and creativity to our industry, but if those individuals have the will and determination to complete an apprenticeship programme, they will also bring that dedication to the office environment. A degree does not define a persons skills, just enhances them, and this can just as easily be bought out and developed through an apprenticeship scheme. As an employer I am more than willing to consider and hire apprenticeship trained candidates alongside graduates.”
It is no secret that the employability of graduates is suffering. Partly down to the economy and partly down to the lack of practical skills they possess. I personally believe that strong work experience is more powerful than a degree; something a lot of graduates do not have. Degree content is over saturated with theory, with no strong emphasis on the practical advantages of learning. Although this may be acceptable in certain circumstances, for example a History or English degree, it is certainly not acceptable for PR. You simply cannot teach the day-to-day responsibilities of a PR practitioner, because no day is the same and depending on internal and external influences, a new problem will be thrown at you everyday.
So how do University students feel about the apprenticeship? As a student currently in my third year of studying Public Relations and Marketing at Leeds Metropolitan University with my third year of growing debt, it definitely was a mixed bag of emotions. For me, I was quite annoyed this was not available three years ago. Have a similar learning experience without the huge black cloud of debt hanging over my head once I have finished? Sounds perfect.
On-the-job training or practical experience is not offered during learning hours of most University courses and although encouraged – is very much down to the student to obtain. The new apprenticeship scheme is set to offer more practical content, with on the job training provided as well as work experience and qualifications. During my time at University I have been able to obtain a strong catalogue of work experience for my CV but for others however, work experience was not a first priority (sometimes due to full time job commitments or money issues) and had more practical teaching been encouraged and available at University, we may have more employable graduates.
Unfortunately the benefits of a PR degree are not readily available to those deciding what to study at University, and its not really taught in schools. (I studied Media Studies at A Level and never heard the term once.) With the rise in tuition fees and the constant talk about the dire state of the economy, University is becoming a less desirable option and going into full time work seems the most sensible decision to make. An apprenticeship scheme offers young people the motivation to continue their learning into a specialized subject and learn more about Public Relations, without having to burn a huge hole in their pocket.
Don’t get me wrong, University has taught me a lot; mainly how to cook something other than beans on toast and work a washing machine without turning all my clothes bright pink, but also the art of being professional, independent, how to make things happen and go out and get what I want. It is also some of the best years of your life, and it is a shame that many will miss out on that due to the rise in tuition fees. But that’s the great thing about the apprentice scheme; it offers those who want to learn a second chance.