PR internships - the good, the bad and the future?

Most people will have seen or at least heard of the recent BBC programme in which a PR agency became the public face of a debate about whether unpaid work placements are right or wrong. Following this, Stephen Waddington of Speed Communications posted an interesting blog piece (see it here: http://wadds.co/fenutN), which received some good feedback including a comment from me summarised below. In terms of the PR industry, work placements are a complex issue and I agree with Stephen that beating up agency bosses is not the route to success. Although Modus Publicity has become the public scapegoat, I do have sympathy for the team there because managing interns is challenging work if the placement is to be meaningful for all parties and it seems what they have been offering has been beneficial to many.

However, this discussion is about many things. How people enter the profession (and whether entry is being increasingly limited to the well off / well connected); how they are trained and remunerated and then how people progress within their career. Developments like this: http://bit.ly/gW2EwU are unhelpful on every level but at least keep the debate (and me) raging.

Sadly personal networks do often offer the strongest opportunities but this is across many professions, not just PR. Law and health are prime examples. This is a major issue that needs addressing overall and can’t be solved overnight – but there are things we can do.

There are opportunities for CPD and to gain professional qualifications that exist through the CIPR but these are not enough. Sadly (and this is through my own experience) PR graduates are often not work ready (although I have employed some excellent PR graduates too). What I would like to see is our industry bodies looking at on the job training provision – particularly now when uni fees are putting a university place out of reach for many.

The PRCA, as the agency representative, should be working closely with its members to gather feedback and set new standards. The CIPR, which has already outlined where it stands at http://bit.ly/eoVe2O, should partner with its sister body and use its links to work with students to understand their needs. Together formal guidelines should be put in place and following these should be a condition of membership.

This should be the bare minimum carried out. I would like to see both industry bodies pare down their approaches and focus on a fewer number of larger issues like these – as these are the ones that will make the greatest difference to our industry. Practitioner standards are critical because they affect how we are seen and employed by the business community. Getting involved with topics like the Big Society is all very well but let’s get things straight back at the ranch first.