Graduates in the areas of communications and public relations (PR) can’t find jobs, are poorly trained and some are exploited by employers, according to the head of an Aussie PR firm.
Lyall Mercer, managing director of Mercer PR, said he agrees with recent comments made to news.com.au by Vicki Thomson, CEO of Group of Eight (which represents Australia’s eight major universities), that the tertiary education system is letting students down and pumping out graduates with “broken dreams and a large student debt”.
“Many graduates are forced into other industries, work in less qualified roles or move interstate or overseas because there are so few PR jobs available,” Mercer said.
“Maybe it’s time for the universities to be honest with students about the chances of landing a job in this industry.”
Mercer also believes universities are failing to properly train graduates, and said graduates he employs openly admit they learned very little about their industry at uni.
“Students are graduating with very little knowledge about the world of PR and no interest in news and current affairs, which affects their employment chances particularly in the corporate PR field,” he said.
“They are given a degree, yet most can’t write a media release, many have poor grammar and communications skills, and they have no idea about even the basics of public relations.
“Several graduates I spoke to recently had never heard of organisations like [the] Associated Press or other major news agencies, which is unbelievable. You have to question what they are learning.”
Mercer said the negative experiences of graduates are made worse by some employers within the industry, which can exploit them with unpaid internships that provide little or no value.
“I’m sure some internships are valid and worthwhile, but others are nothing more than illegal, unpaid work,” he said.
“I know of one person who worked as an unpaid intern over a nine-month period doing the same work as paid staff.
“Other interns get put in a corner and told to file papers, which provides no benefit whatsoever.”
Mr Mercer said universities could consider working more closely with PR companies to provide better real-world education, and those employers who offer unpaid internships should make them short-term and structured.