Wednesday, May 02, 2007

Professional guidance for PR protégés

There’s a definite air of euphoria in the corridors of Media and Comms at UCE this week. We’ve had a lot of good news recently – a successful course validation, a member of staff gaining an impressive postgrad qualification, a substantial research grant and a very respectable 7th place in the Guardian university league table for Media Courses (3rd place if assessed on a like-for-like basis).

This was helped by a healthy 9 out of 10 score for job prospects (check here for the Guardian’s methodology) – always welcome news that indicates greater employer recognition of a Media Studies degree as a worthwhile qualification.

Since taking on responsibility as Acting Degree Leader for the PR pathway of UCE’s Media and Communication degree, I have certainly been able to rely on strong employer support for our programme and our students. As one of the conditions of CIPR approval for the degree, we have a panel of employers chaired by Julia Willoughby of Willoughby PR and meeting regularly to offer advice, news of possible student projects, placement news, visiting speakers and general guidance. Their attitude is fantastic – any support they offer is based on the idea that this is a long-term investment for PR as a profession. If they can help and support our students – and the way we teach them – today, the profession will soon benefit from the skills, knowledge and professional commitment of newly qualified members. And, let’s face it, a lot of success in PR is based on the ability to network, make contacts, getting tuned into the grapevine and being known – so it’s in the interest of PR students and PR professionals to have the channels of two-way communication well and truly open.

With this in mind, I have been working on a mentoring scheme. The idea is to match individual 2nd year students with mentors from within the profession - individual PR people who, in some cases, may be recent graduates themselves. The benefit for the student is to have someone from outside the university but inside the profession who can provide support and guidance to their study and skills development, intelligence on placement, project or job opportunities and a chance for students to build up a network of professional contacts.

At first sight, the scheme has lots to offer to students – but what are the benefits to employers? I thought I might have to struggle to convince PR professionals to get involved but I’m delighted to discover that I was wrong.

It’s true that employers like to get involved in students’ personal development and, as I said, see this as a good way of investing in the future of the profession. But there’s so much more to be gained from working with students. Enthusiastic students with fresh ideas can be very inspirational, especially in an industry that relies on creative thinking and an abundance of fresh ideas.

Working as a mentor can also contribute much to the CPD (Continuing Professional Development) of recent recruits into PR and play a big part in their annual appraisal process. Even as a grizzled old academic I can verify that a great way to learn something new is to work out how to teach it to someone else!

I plan to report on the progress of the mentoring scheme in this blog. In the long run, I hope this works as a further factor in promoting the employability of our students. And boosting the credibility of Media Studies.

mentoring    Media Studies    UCE     PR education     Guardian     Willoughby_PR

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