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Has the PRCA’s PR apprenticeship scheme worked?

It is now six years since the launch of the PRCA’s PR Apprenticeship and in that time 240 apprentices have gone through the scheme. To find out how PR apprenticeships are getting on, we spoke to employers and apprentices, as well as the PRCA itself.

One agency chief who is thrilled with the scheme is Charlie Vavasour, managing director of agency Quantum PR: “Our apprentice experience has been overwhelmingly positive, with our apprentice Beverley now a permanent account executive. The apprenticeship course provided a good basic grounding in the industry which, combined with the practical work experience, very quickly produced a competent and confident all-rounder.”

Vavasour believes that PR apprenticeships are a progressive initiative for the PR sector, and that they also help with diversity. However, he points out that an apprenticeship will only be as successful as the selected apprentice. “A few tips to picking a good apprentice include: ensuring they have a clear understanding of, and passion for PR; delving into their motivation for doing an apprenticeship to make sure it’s not just ‘something to do’; ascertaining their reasons for not going to university; and making sure they are mature enough to fit into a corporate environment.”

Describing how Quantum’s apprentice appeared to be a perfect fit for the agency, Vavasour explains, “Beverley clearly understood what PR was and had undertaken considerable research into the apprenticeship and everything that it entailed. She had persuasive reasons for not wanting to do a degree course, despite excellent A level results. Perhaps most importantly, she was mature enough to join a small team and position herself as an equal with older colleagues which really helped her development.“

Not everyone has had such an overwhelmingly positive experience. For instance, Rick Guttridge, managing director at agency Smoking Gun PR, points out bringing in apprentices can be a gamble: “We have tried a number of apprentices in the business over the years in business admin roles, social media specialists and general PR account handlers, including one graduate apprenticeship. As with all recruitment, there’s an element of pot luck no matter what your process is. Most apprentices are younger than graduates and with that comes a different set of life experiences and also possibly practical considerations for the employer in the workplace and on work socials. 

“Ultimately we find that success comes down to finding the right qualities and a can-do attitude in candidates as well as those that see the apprenticeship as a route into a career, not just a stepping stone into the world of work per se.”

Guttridge says that in his experience, taking on graduates may be a safer option: “In terms of bringing in junior members of staff to the team, we’ve actually had more success in building relationships with universities and running sandwich-year placements. We’ve generally found more work-ready candidates via a stringent recruitment process which we run ourselves in line with our company values and using technology to make the process more beneficial for all concerned, such as Google Hangouts for group tasks. This has helped us gain some fantastic team members post-graduation and has been a more effective route for us than apprenticeships to date.”

Recruiting people is always a minefield, and finding the right apprentice is as much of a challenge as filling any other role. It is also a risk for apprentices to forego getting a degree in order to start a career, although there is the obvious benefit of not having the burden of debts to pay off. We spoke to three PR apprentices to find out what it is like from their side of the scheme.

 Case studies

 My experience as a PR apprentice

Anais Belloul, apprentice at agency Templemere PR:
“Although I was offered a number of university places, I decided that further full-time education wasn’t for me. I started a long search for a junior PR role on job sites and was frequently turned down because of my limited professional experience. I decided to go into the direction of an apprenticeship as a friend of mine was getting on so well with hers. I followed @PRapprentices on Twitter and changed my search platform to the GOV.UK apprenticeship site.

“Templemere PR’s role appealed to me above any other because of the boutique size of the agency and the diversity of the retail industries we work in. I knew that working in a small team meant that I wouldn’t be forgotten about, and I’d have plenty of support from everyone in the team. I loved the range of responsibilities advertised, and knew I’d enjoy and take pride in every task I’d do.

“My experience so far has been very rewarding; I feel like a valued member of the team and have had the same opportunities as everyone else despite being an apprentice (including an incredible trip to Cannes for a client event and attending number of PRCA events). The resources and opportunities from the PRCA, combined with the nature and support of the Templemere team, means that the gaps in my PR knowledge are being filled. I hope to continue learning and enjoying the PR industry as I work my way up the PR ladder.”

Will Dann, apprentice at agency Fleet Street Communications, found his placement independently of the PRCA scheme:
“I believe apprenticeships are extremely valuable – they give you a fantastic opportunity to earn whilst you learn. Gaining hands on PR experience, through learning from experienced colleagues, is something I wouldn’t have had exposure to at university.

“Shadowing the account teams has been a steep learning curve, but one I am really enjoying. From understanding the reporting techniques, to being involved in key projects from the beginning, such as helping to create the relevant press materials, selling in the story, and seeing the coverage land, means I understand how PR works from start to finish. Thanks to this, after only four months of my PRCA apprenticeship I have already secured media coverage, which is something I’m incredibly proud of.

“One of my colleagues here at Fleet Street Communications is a former apprentice, so I can share and discuss experiences, ask questions about the programme and its modules, which feels like I have even more support from someone with first-hand experience. I’m extremely grateful for the opportunity, the apprenticeship is giving me a solid foundation from which I’m hoping to build a successful and long career in PR.”

Will Darby, apprentice at PR agency Golin:
“I applied for the Level 4 PR Apprenticeship Programme with the PRCA for three reasons: first it was an opportunity to kick-start a career in media; second to hone my core strengths in both writing and with people; and third to earn and learn in a practical, hands-on environment.

“Ever since I applied for the position via the Direct Gov site I haven’t looked back. For someone who was not particularly motivated at school and not ready for the university sausage machine, I feel – for the first time – stimulated and ambitious, relishing the present and excited by the future; and I owe a massive credit to the phenomenal agency I was fortunate enough to join.

“Golin is a thriving global company with a large, diverse range of clients; we’re constantly striving to be the best, with the team forever engineering new schemes to underline our status as the industry pioneers. Although there's a steep learning curve – as expected when joining an agency of Golin’s calibre – the support it gives you is fantastic. I’m learning something new from the industry's best practitioners every day.

“As my time as an apprentice draws to a close, I’ve discovered that my interests lie in the consumer arena and that I'd eventually like to go into media planning.”

If you would also like to be a PR apprentice, or you are an employer willing to take on a trainee, Seymour Pearman, PR apprentice specialist at PRCA, describes how the scheme works in the panel below, and lists its successes to date.

All you need to know about the PR Apprenticeship

The PR Apprenticeship, of which the PRCA is the only provider delivering in England and Wales, has been running since 2011. As a Level 4 programme, it is classed as a Higher-level apprenticeship, through which the apprentice gains a nationally recognised qualification (Level 4 Diploma in PR) over the course of 15 months. The apprenticeship consists of mandatory and optional units, so that an employer can tailor the qualification to suit their business needs.

The requirements of the qualification are delivered via online learning, assessment visits, PRCA webinars, PRCA face-to-face training sessions and workplace assessment visits. Each apprentice has an assessor assigned to them for the duration of the programme and all apprentices are required to spend 20% of their working week (paid) completing apprenticeship coursework.

Apprentices must be paid at least the National Minimum Wage, although the current average salary of £14,000 for PR Apprentices is significantly higher than that. Training costs are dependent on the age of the apprentice and the size of the employer, as these determine the overall Government contribution.

The PRCA can provide additional support with recruitment. We will advertise your vacancy, conduct initial interviews and send through a shortlist of applications for interview. The recruitment process takes on average of six to eight weeks.

Some 240 apprentices have gone through the programme since it started and we currently have just under 40 apprentices on programme across the country. Employers range from very large ones such as the NHS and the Department for Work and Pensions, to SMEs such as PR and communications agencies.

Completion rate for the programme is currently at 91%, with three-quarters of apprentices staying in employment with the same employer. You can find out more by hearing what some of our current and former apprentices have to say here.

If you are interested in taking on a PR Apprentice, please contact Seymour Pearman at the PRCA –

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