PR Degree VS PR Apprenticeship

Holyrood PR Intern Programme

PRCA artcileThe Public Relations Consultants Association (PRCA) in partnership with Pearson in Practice has recently announced plans to introduce an apprenticeship scheme for individuals who wish to work in PR but do not want to study a public relations degree course at university. The announcement has sparked much debate over social networks about the value of a PR degree and what the introduction of the apprenticeship scheme means for current PR graduates. Many individuals have posed the question “Are PR degrees now irrelevant?”

Set to launch in September 2012 it is hoped that there will be 600 apprenticeships created over a three year period. Fiona McBride, CEO of Pearson in Practice believes that the apprenticeship scheme is a “credible alternative to university education.”  With many school leavers not wishing to go on to study at university it is believed that the scheme will attract new, young talent to the industry. My argument would be, where does this leave PR graduates who have worked exceedingly hard over a three or four year period to gain a PR qualification? Does it mean that they will be overlooked when employers are sifting through applicants in favour of individuals who have had extensive ‘on the job’ experience?

Having just completed a Bachelor of Arts in PR and Marketing and about to embark on (as I like to call it) ‘The Great Job Hunt,’ I would like to think that this would not be the case. I have worked extremely hard over the last four years and for my efforts to become redundant on the back of this announcement would be devastating. I am perhaps a little biased, however I believe that university teaches you more than the basic public relations theory. It encourages you to develop time management skills, confidence to stand up in front of a room and deliver a presentation and importantly how to structure your writing – all of which I think are skills required of a career in public relations. It is also an opportunity to meet an array of people and experience a number of situations that you might not necessarily be exposed to if entering an apprenticeship scheme straight from school.

I am not denying that PR apprenticeships would be beneficial to individuals who are perhaps constrained by financial or personal reasons that would stop them from attending university, but given my experience of university I would recommend anyone to take this route into PR over an apprenticeship. Saying this, I would advise every PR student, whether in first year or final year, to supplement their studies with work experience. Contact local agencies or the in-house press office of a company you quite like the sound of on spec to see if they have anything they can offer you. This shows dedication to the profession and is something that I have certainly reaped the benefits of. Even if they don’t have capacity to take you on board at that moment in time they may be able to offer you some valuable advice over the phone or by email.

I do think a degree is necessary, but there is a call for universities to integrate a significant amount of practical work experience into the course that they offer. Take student nurses for example; they complete a minimum eight week placement for every year of their course. I think an increase in mandatory work experience in conjunction with academic learning will be of upmost benefit to students, especially in light of the PRCA’s announcement. Something which I also believe needs to be taken on board by universities is the use of social media in PR. Courses need to be overhauled in order to offer students the opportunity to learn theory that engages with social media, its uses for PR and general Dos and Don’ts. If something isn’t done soon PR degrees are at risk of becoming outdated, something that will allow PR apprenticeships to take centre stage.

This topic is a contentious one with many different views and angles to be taken. It will undoubtedly continue to ignite great conversation in the PR world over the upcoming months.

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The following articles inspired this post:

PRCA and Pearson in Practice to shake up PR careers with first ever apprenticeship scheme

Behind The Spin – Launch of PR Apprenticeships

Behind The Spin – Apprenticeship VS Degree: A Student’s View

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