Paid internships ensure PR attracts the best young talent

In January, the Public Relations Consultants Association (PRCA), the UK's PR trade body, asked members to join our campaign to end unpaid internships by paying at least the minimum wage to interns.

In January, the Public Relations Consultants Association (PRCA), the UK's PR trade body, asked members to join our campaign to end unpaid internships by paying at least the minimum wage to interns. It is a campaign that has now seen 80 agencies sign up to this commitment.

We also provided members with strict guidelines on how to approach an internship for both current and future employers and interns. The guidelines - compiled by the PRCA - cover everything from how to advertise an internship, all the way to how to conduct an exit interview. This follows our survey last year with UK lobby group Intern Aware, which found that more than 70% of internships in the UK are paid less than minimum wage - with almost a quarter paid nothing at all. This must change.

Internships are a fundamental route for young people to enter a profession. A degree is no longer enough for an entry-level job. Internships are, in many cases, the only chance young graduates have to enter an industry such as ours.

Yet unpaid internships are exacerbating inequality by eliminating the next big stars of PR who can't afford to take the first step. They are for the select few who live in big cities and can commute from the comfort of their parents' homes.

The UK has managed to avoid the unemployment figures crippling other parts of Europe, but the number of youths without a job remains stubbornly high. So what should we do next - on both sides of the Atlantic?

First, we must show that paid internships create a more diverse workforce, which tends to be more happy, loyal, and productive.

Second, other industry bodies should join the PRCA in naming and praising agencies that pay interns as an example to others. Third, we need to continue to support good causes such as the UK's Taylor Bennett Foundation, which places black and minority graduates into PR internships. Finally, we should leverage the increasingly political resentment of unpaid work. Our campaign was launched by the UK's Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg.

Our guidelines make the case that paid internships can play a vital role in attracting the brightest people. Choosing the status quo will only harm our reputation, and ultimately, our business. l

Francis Ingham is the director general of the PRCA.

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