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Doing a PR degree could limit your career options, says CM Porter Novelli’s Angela Casey

13th May 2013

Over 89 per cent of the people working in PR are graduates. I cannot tell you what they are graduates in, but it certainly indicates our industry is attracting high-calibre individuals. With the PRCA currently developing an apprenticeship scheme to increase the number of non-graduates in the profession who will receive training, discussion around the value of vocational training is ongoing.

I receive graduate applications from a wide range of disciplines. In most cases these are from graduates in subjects other than PR and communications and they are more often the ones we employ. The key factor in selecting graduates is finding people with the right attitude, a passion for the media and the subjects in which we work and a rigorous work ethic that will be able to cope with the standards of writing and professionalism that we expect. In many cases the right person with the “wrong” degree will beat the PR graduate.

According to the National Bureau of Economic Research in the US, young people who receive vocational education have a higher employment rate than those with a more general education. However, over time this advantage erodes as vocationally educated workers find it harder to adapt to changes in the economy and employment market. By which I guess they mean, it is easier to get a job as a graduate in PR and your career may take off faster, but after a time the non-PR graduates will overtake you. If that is the case it gives food for thought.

There can be no doubt that by doing a PR degree, an undergraduate has better access to work experience and internships as many of these are part of the degree itself. This then provides valuable collateral on the CV and ensures the graduate is ahead of the pack when it comes to applying for jobs. But if I am honest, a good undergraduate who is committed to a career in PR can get equivalent experience by applying for relevant holiday and part-time jobs – and in many cases this demonstrates more get up and go. It also allows for a broader experience, with the combination of practical experience combined with the subject matter of the degree course.

As the mother of a teenager applying for university places, I also think that to choose a vocational degree when you are only 18 narrows the choice of career considerably. Though in the end, a degree is a degree and is valuable as a sign of ability and employability and if the right person came along with a vocational degree in another subject, I would not turn them away.

Ultimately, getting the right experience under your belt is the most valuable thing. And if you get that by doing a PR degree that opens the doors to internships and work placements, then it will help you onto the ladder. However, if you create these opportunities for yourself while studying a non-vocational degree, you are also doing the right thing. What the industry should be doing to help the process is employing interns on a fair wage (and I wholly support the PRCA campaign on this) and working with the PR degree courses to ensure commercial and practical experience and insights are available to the students. That will ensure the graduating PR students are ready to hit the ground running rather than having a terrific grasp of PR theory, but no understanding of how to sell in a press release.

Why do we go to university? It is not just for the union bar and the great social life. It is to stretch ourselves, to study a subject that excites us and to come out at the end with a great CV that will launch us into our chosen career. The key thing is to get experience under the belt that shows a graduate can contribute to an organisation and will be able to just get on with the job in hand – whatever you study.

Angela Casey, managing director of CM Porter Novelli, Edinburgh

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