Today (April 16th) the Chartered Institute of Public Relations published research into internships, which found that they are of limited benefit to either the PR industry or young people looking to get into Public Relations.
The link outlines the findings, and it has given me the opportunity to return to a favourite issue of mine. Diversity in PR. I’ve always been anti-unpaid internships in general as they can exclude those who can’t afford to live and work without a wage – particularly in London (where I live and work, so this comment focuses on London). Unless the intern is from or has family in London – or is from a wealthy family who can cover the astronomical costs of living within sensible commuting distance – they simply will not be able to afford it. Once you consider how important experience is when securing your first PR job, we are just excluding a huge proportion of talented young people.
The recent PRWeek census shows how little diversity we currently have as an industry. How can we truly expect to offer our clients and their various issues a great service when we are all white, wealthy graduates? (http://www.prweek.com/article/1225129/pr-census-2013)
As a sector we’ve been talking about this for years, but this latest research shows that nothing is changing. Only 26% of interns were paid, and that was the minimum wage. 76% class themselves as upper or middle class and only 24% are non-white. If we can consider these young interns the future of the PR industry (and I think we can) then it doesn’t bode well for the diversity issue we say we are so concerned about.
Add to this the finding that only 57% of respondents said that their internship has helped them to prepare for a PR career and I have to question the value of internships at all.
A few years ago I had the pleasure of helping to launch the PR Higher Apprenticeship (when Pearson we’re still involved – more info here: http://www.prapprenticeships.com/ ) with the PRCA (now working with Creative Process). The project was started due to the lack of diversity within the PR sector, with the aim of opening the sector up to non-graduates from different backgrounds. It paid a wage, and while some agencies chose to pay the apprentices the bare minimum, most where on a decent entry level wage – around and above the London Living Wage.
As well as an actual paid job in a PR agency or in-house team, it also included a structured training programme that was developed by the PR industry itself (I forget the exact figure but somewhere around 150 PR professionals directly inputted into what the training programme included and involved) that actually left them with the skills they needed to make a success in PR. I met the first 20 or so apprentices and was blown away by the energy and talent on show, and continue to watch them taking the industry by storm – I’m pretty sure that one day I will be asking one of them for a job!
We need more agencies and in-house teams taking on apprentices from varied backgrounds and paying them a living wage that means we attract young people from wealthy and non-wealthy backgrounds, not taking on non and low-paid (or properly trained) interns. We need to build a future talent base that brings more to the table than all the same minds and experiences and internships aren’t going to achieve this.
Until we do we are going to continue to just talk about diversity without making any dent into the problem.