Degrees or Apprentices? The PR Industry’s Position.


PR Degree or Apprenticeship?

Apprenticeship or DegreeAccording to a 2012 survey released by PRWeek/PRCA Census, 89 percent of persons working in the PR field have a degree. The poll was supported by data from Major Players, a large recruitment firm, who reported that 86 percent of people in the PR industry have degrees. However, with a new government supported apprenticeship program, there is an increase of PR workers who are gaining experience on the job rather than through a degree.

The power of a degree cannot be underestimated. Tom Watson, a professor of PR at Bournemouth University, reports that 48 of 52 graduates started working as PROs within six months of graduation, an excellent record in a tough job market. Watson explains; “Clients value a degree because it is seen as something that gives a person an added maturity as well as research and writing skills, especially if they have an English degree, which is particularly desirable for employers in PR because of its focus on writing.”

The Apprenticeship – A Degree of Controversy

With the cost of university education rising rapidly, many potential PR candidates may not be pursuing a degree. The industry has acknowledged this potential transition. As one professional noted, “I definitely like to see a degree but I value work experience above that. What really appeals to us is enthusiasm for the job. Someone who has gone out there and has the drive to organise a placement clearly has that.”

The PRCA launched its first official apprenticeship program in 2012. Lee Nugent explained the advantage the apprenticeship program may hold for PR candidates. “Our industry hires from a very narrow talent pool. Why, if we want the best candidates, wouldn’t we widen that pool to include people with different backgrounds? Intelligence, application and great comms skills can be found in candidates with or without degrees.” Many PR professionals applaud the new diversity that the apprenticeship programs might offer.

The two concerns are the breakdown of written and oral communication skills, which a degree usually ensures, and the possibility that businesses will take advantage of apprenticeships in terms of wages. The PRCA has not established standardised compensation schedules for working apprentices without a degree.

There is also concern how an industry that has been based on degree qualified workers will interact with workers from varying backgrounds. Some applaud the diversity while others are not convinced.

As much PR work is submitted to the board, there may be differing levels of apprenticeships. However, it is safe to say that more apprentices will be joining the workforce over the next few years.

One analyst recalled origins of today’s PR professionals: “At a senior level you have this bizarre mix of people in their forties and fifties who are either non-graduates or from a very narrow pool of universities, particularly Oxford and Cambridge. They started their careers when few people went to university, so on one hand you have non-graduates such as Tim Bell (Chime Communications chairman) and Alan Parker (Brunswick Group chairman) and on the other hand Cambridge graduates such as myself and Lord Chadlington (Huntsworth Group chief executive).” This assessment lends credence to the apprentice program.

Primarily due to the rising cost of education but helped by budget trimming from companies large and small, it is not impossible that the 86 percent of PR professionals with degrees working today will decrease to around 60 percent of the PR workforce within the next few years.

Non-degree success stories are rampant in the industry, even if not with the most recent crop of recruits.

One recent case study involves a London-based PR worker. He began his career as a general office assistant but gradually developed interest in PR despite lack of a degree, now having served as a graduate account director for seven years.

He admits that his career might have had a smoother path with a degree bit it was simply not financially possible: “I learned a lot about the importance of hard work and have taken that with me. I don’t feel disadvantaged not having a degree and I can honestly say I’ve never encountered any prejudice because of it.

“What a degree does give is some guarantee of basic intelligence. But having a degree does not necessarily mean you have other skills needed such as communication, working with clients and dealing with pressure.”

The PRCA has shown foresight in embracing the government’s apprenticeship program. There will be some refinements to be made but the initiative should pay dividends.

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