‘What do you want to do when you grow up?’ is a question rarely answered with; ‘work in PR’. This is somewhat worrying for the industry when a new report, launched by Education and Employers, found that children’s career aspirations only differ slightly between the ages of 7 to age 17. In the report, primary school children aged seven to 11 were asked to draw a picture of the job they wanted to do when they grow up. Based on the results not only are children’s aspirations shaped from a young age, but their career aspirations have little in common with projected workforce needs. This clearly suggests that young people aren’t attracted to careers where there are already significant skills gaps – perhaps not good news for PR which is already facing a talent crisis.
With the study showing that a third of children base their career aspirations on people they know, we felt we needed to give some guidance and so we recently attended a careers fair at one of our daughter’s schools. There was a steady stream of girls [it was an all-girls school] to our stand, but how many were attracted by the bowl of sweets on our table, it’s hard to gauge. Not many of them really understood what PR was about – no surprise there! Whilst those that did seemed to have a typically skewed view of the profession.
Like an iceberg, 90% of what makes up PR is hidden below the surface. While some accounts do require the odd evening event or press launch, the majority of PR work is hard slog behind a desk. Evenings spent schmoozing with a gin and tonic definitely take second place to being able to able to write in a range of styles for various audiences, and tailoring campaigns to best meet client objectives, and deliver results. This means meeting tight deadlines, multitasking and thinking creatively, which is a damn sight harder than air kissing your way around a room!
Every year, thousands of graduates and school leavers seek rewarding career opportunities. How many of them see the PR profession as a top career choice compare with, say, accounting, law or even advertising? A recent article in ‘PR moment’ shows that rather than a career choice, many people ‘fall into PR’ from another career such as journalism or events. With the pool of PR talent looking increasingly shallower, we strongly believe the industry increasingly needs to market itself as a profession that can provide blue-chip careers to a diverse range of people. But to do this we think our industry needs to overcome the ‘Ab-Fab-style’ perceptions that somehow the sector still holds, 20 years on – to potential recruits.
As such, PR consultancies need to mirror many of the large law and accountancy firms and look across a far wider pool to find new talent. Word of mouth, social media and a transparent application process are all vital. Our view is that a consultancy’s reputation, especially the quality of its work, and the brand company it keeps, will also play a part. Establishing that your doors are always open and that ‘talent’ and ‘potential’ are more important than personal background and academic qualifications will help. There are numerous ways to do this: internships can give candidates a flavour of consultancy life and an opportunity for employers to spot talented people. In our experience, the trick is to seek candidates with broad life experiences, not just undergraduates but school leavers, gap year return, career switchers, or returning mums, as well as from different social classes and ethnic backgrounds.
Which brings us back to that careers fair! With children starting to rule out career options from an early age, this highlights the pressing need for closer ties between employers and schools, to ensure that all children have access to role models in a wide range of sectors to help them develop an awareness of career options at an early age. It might seem a little premature, fishing for 15 year olds, but attracting school leavers has its advantages; those coming into the industry straight from college or school tend to be more loyal, staying longer with the company. Also, you effectively are working with a blank canvas that you can mould into the type of employee you want and need.
And although this time, we were talking to girls, in a fortnight’s time, we’ll be attending the careers’ evening of a local boys’ school to show them why PR is not – despite popular opinion – a job for the girls.