Apprentices are the route to a more level playing field

Apprentices, as well as driving growth and diversity, make plain good business sense so start advertising for yours today.

Richard Houghton: It's time to embrace apprenticeships
Richard Houghton: It's time to embrace apprenticeships

Ok, I’ll come clean. After six months of fruitless app­lications, I got into PR consultancy in 1987 after my grandfather pulled some strings with an agency MD to whom he had given his first job. So not exactly a case of the best person for the job.

The good news is that getting into the industry is rather more democratic now, but it remains overwhelmingly white, middle class and university educated. As my colleague Theresa said last month, this is madness as social media demand direct communication with the whole of the British population and the sector’s current profile really doesn’t cut it.

From what I’ve seen at my clients’ agencies, apprenticeships are part of the answer. They bring a younger and non-graduate point of view to the agency, and often come from different social backgrounds.

It has been four years since the PRCA launched PR apprenticeships, during which time more than 120 16- to 24-year-olds (the majority with A-levels) have been through the 15-month scheme. The PR apprenticeship is a level four nat­ionally recognised qualification and the equivalent of a foundation degree.

Let’s get down to the nitty gritty. How much does a PR app­rentice cost? The average salary is £12,400, below the average starting salary for a graduate. In terms of the training costs the Government is happy to help with funding. Sixteen- to 18-year-olds are fully funded. For those aged 19 years-plus the Government picks up 50 per cent of the cost. The agency needs to contribute £3,000 towards training.

Agencies that haven’t taken on an apprentice in the past 12 months and have fewer than 1,000 employees are eligible for a government incentive grant of up to £1,500 to make an appointment.

When it comes to finding an apprentice, the PRCA runs a free recruitment service that covers advertising the vacancy, initial interviews and drawing up a shortlist. While the heavy lifting is done for you, the feedback I’ve had from my clients is that the interview process is not quite the same as with graduates, with a higher number of no-shows. On average the recruitment process takes between six and eight weeks.

The apprentice will receive free membership of the PRCA, access to online best practice and free tickets to selected association events. It was also announced last month that the PRCA and partner universities are bidding to develop degree-level apprenticeships that will allow apprentices to gain a masters degree in PR while working and earning.

I make no apology if you feel this reads like an advertorial for PR apprenticeships. The scheme is a proven success. Network agencies such as Frank PR, Golin, Grayling and Nelson Bostock, and independents including Calacus, Cirkle and Claremont, have all benefited from apprentices bringing a fresh perspective and a great work ethic.

So if you haven’t considered an apprenticeship to bring junior talent into your agency, it’s time you did.

Richard Houghton is a business consultant;

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