In Defence Of University Graduates: MD Of Weber Shandwick

Group of graduate students throwing graduation hats to the sky.
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In response to this article arguing that PR graduates are poorly trained and exploited by employers; Ava Lawler, managing director of PR and communications agency Weber Shandwick, claps back with this opinion piece arguing that there’s no shortage of opportunities or talent in the PR industry.  

We’re at that time of year, heading towards the end of the final university semester when the graduate job hunt begins in earnest, and a truly critical time in the developing career of young PR professionals begins.

There are lots of tips and advice columns for the new job hunter out there, so I want to take some time now to talk about the industry and the employers’ role at this time. I believe it is critical that our industry stands up and takes responsibility for nurturing new entrants with care and consideration.

The journey into the real world can be both exciting and daunting for new graduates, and as employers it is key that we nurture and direct their ambition and enthusiasm so they can make the transition with less stress and more success.

This isn’t about babying the youth of today, or cushioning your new team members from the reality of working in the PR game. A successful, well-structured graduate program means both parties – employers and new employees – getting the best out of each other.

Best practice graduate programs start with a clear induction and onboarding process, and a system where new starters are assigned a buddy within the organisation to help with day-to-day questions and transitioning to full-time employment. It continues with training and ongoing coaching, and a tangible investment in a graduate’s career from day one.

For us, this kind of investment starts during our internship scheme, our “First Light” program, and strong partnerships with a number of universities.

In my view, the role of universities is to provide a foundation for life-long learning and skills development. They need to provide a core set of skills and the theoretical basis that the workplace builds on.

It is then up to the employer to provide real world experience and the insight required to adapt academic theory to meet business and client need.

I’ve found the universities we engage with to be equally committed to providing smart, motivated work-ready graduates.  They have consistently delivered us a pipeline of passionate, intelligent and creative employees that add real value to our clients and business.

For example, we’re regularly identifying strong, ambitious PR talent via “First Light.” We’re hiring an average of at least three to four graduates per year. We also typically have an average of five paid part-time positions throughout the year, largely filled by previous participants in our intern program.

As I said, our role as employers in making this work is equally important. We made the commitment to partner with universities, building and maintaining those relationships, devoting agency time and resource in interns once they were on board and creating a valuable experience for them.

It’s not licking envelopes or going for coffee runs. Neither is it the kind of shady free slave labour internships may have got a bad rap for in the past.

Students are working across the entire organisation, experiencing each practice, and are given a feel for the true breadth a PR career can offer. They’re managed by a “First Light” team member, as well as staff across the agency for specific projects, that they get to see from inception to completion. They really are part of our business for the time they are with us, and we know they find this approach incredibly rewarding.

For example, a recent intern told us: “I’ve learned invaluable skills that I know I will utilise for my future career. I’m receiving first-hand experience on how an agency runs on a daily basis and I get to see how rewarding it is when my own hard work pays off,”

That there is a lack of opportunity, a perception that universities are failing to prepare students adequately and questions regarding the overall quality of graduates is unfounded.

There certainly is no shortage of opportunities or talent in my opinion, but as with anything of value – designer handbags, super contributions, the talent within your organisation – you get what you put into it.

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