The survey of 400 CIPR student members looks into the socio-economic and ethnic background of recent interns, the level of payments and their attitudes to internships.
It found that 49 per cent of PR interns are not receiving at least the National Minimum Wage and that 32 per cent of student members felt they could not afford to take low-paying or unpaid internships. While most have done multiple internships, only a quarter said they were paid for all of them.
The study found that just 24 per cent of respondents identified themselves as lower middle-class or working class, from the C1DE demographic groupings. It found that the same number, 24 per cent, were from non-white backgrounds.
According to CIPR statistics, nine per cent of the PR workforce is non-white, suggesting that something is preventing non-white interns from becoming fully fledged practitioners. The CIPR is to investigate the precise causes of this disparity.
The report concludes: "There is a perception within the industry that the issue of unpaid interns has been resolved, but these figures question the validity of such assertions. [It] points towards a demographic of young people marginalised by the economic prejudices of PR internships."
CIPR president Stephen Waddington said: "The lack of fair pay for interns has wide ranging repercussions. It reinforces a growing concern that employers who refuse to pay interns could be depriving the profession of the most promising talent. "
The survey also examined the duration of internships. It found that 30 per cent of those surveyed said their longest internship lasted longer than six months. Just under half (46 per cent) of participants indicated they’d spent more than six months interning throughout their career.
"I’d also question the rationale of employers who hire unpaid interns for a period of more than six months," said Waddington.
"Not only is this morally questionable for an industry striving towards professionalism but free labour has no place in any sustainable business model."
The voluntary, consumer and beauty sectors accounted for 62 per cent of internships undertaken by respondents, but account for just 15 per cent of all PR jobs.
The research did not identity whether the cause of this disparity is simply the popularity of those sectors among young people or whether they reflect overreliance on interns.
The CIPR will release the full results of the study on Wednesday 16th April.