Get young people switched on to PR early

What did you want to be when you grew up? A doctor? A singer? It probably wasn't a press officer.

Kate Magee: 'Unless young people have relatives in the industry, or have watched one of the TV portrayals, they do not know what PR is'
Kate Magee: 'Unless young people have relatives in the industry, or have watched one of the TV portrayals, they do not know what PR is'

Herein lies one of the main challenges facing the industry in its drive to diversify its talent pool: unless young people have relatives in the industry, or have watched one of the often unflattering TV portrayals of the industry, they simply do not know what PR is.

Research released by the CIPR this week reveals the scale of the problem.

In a survey of 1,229 students aged 16 to 18, 70 per cent said they were unfamiliar with what a career in PR involved.

This is a significantly higher figure than those for other – albeit larger – professions, such as medicine (39 per cent), sales (42 per cent) and banking and finance (53 per cent).

For any reader who has tried to explain their job at a dinner party, these conclusions will not come as a surprise. The PR industry is hard to explain because it encompasses a range of disparate roles, and its impacts, such as a great piece of media coverage, are often invisible to the untrained eye.

But tellingly, the figures also reveal that even at this early stage, those from lower socioeconomic backgrounds, and those that live outside London, are already less knowledgeable about the industry than their opposites.

The CIPR has decided to tackle the knowledge gap head-on, as our analysis piece explains. On 19 March, Brentside High School in Ealing will become the first secondary school to welcome a group of CIPR representatives to educate 14- to 16-year-olds about PR as a career choice.

The body hopes to replicate this in schools nationwide and by using a series of diverse role models, particularly BME practitioners.

The CIPR should be applauded for this initiative. Arming young people with information and guidance on PR careers, before they start making choices, will go some way towards creating a more level playing field.

Other recent industry initiatives, most notably the PRCA’s apprenticeship scheme, will also help to remove barriers to entry, including eye-wateringly expensive university tuition fees.

But the real measure of success will be in a few years’ time, when today’s young people join the workforce and in turn become role models for the generations that follow them.

After all, as Marie Wilson, co-founder of Take Our Daughters and Sons To Work Day, said in the documentary Miss Representation: ‘You can’t be what you can’t see.’

kate.magee@haymarket.com

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