Sunday, 13 February 2011

Is the PR industry exploiting university graduates and students?

As the UK perseveres in its recovery from the recession, unemployment remains at an all time high. Each year university graduates are finding it increasing difficult to find a job as they desperately seek to get their foot on the first rung of the career ladder. Shockingly, last week the BBC aired a documentary presenting evidence to suggest that many companies may be exploiting this desperation.

The documentary accused top fashion PR agency Modus Publicity of employing up to 20 UNPAID interns at a time for long periods. It is easy to see why firms choose to employ unpaid interns, with universities producing stacks of talented young people, all of whom are extremely eager to work and willing to do anything. Equally, recession hit employers are striving to protect margins at a time of sluggish revenue. Workers who cost little – often noting – become a very tempting proposition.

But what does this mean for PR graduates? As a PR student, soon to be a graduate, I believe it ethically wrong to employ anyone who is adding real value to one’s business without paying them properly. Furthermore, the only graduates who will be able to work for long periods of time without any pay will be those from wealthy backgrounds. As a result, the PR industry will become even more homogenous than it already is.

 There is certainly nothing wrong with offering work experience. It is a great way for people like myself to gain a comprehensive insight into the world they seek to work in, and also offers employers the chance to uncover bright new talent. However, the methods put into practice by Modus are nothing short of exploitation. Although Modus are the only agency to have been brandished thus far, a PR Week investigation conducted last autumn found that this practice is far from unique.

The CIPR charter states that only students placed with an employer as part of their course or those doing voluntary work for charity are exempt from the need to pay. However, industry sources acknowledge that many agencies ignore this ruling.

What do you think of Modus Publicity’s actions? Do you believe graduates desperation for employment is being exploited? Should interns be paid at least minimum wage if they are an asset to their company? Let me know your thoughts.


Maria said...

I totally agree with you but for now not much could be done. I was lucky my work experience was paid but I can't remember of a single classmate of mine who was paid...
Maybe if there were any criteria of what sets of skills are needed for being a PR professional or a well structured work experience scheme stating clearly for how long and under what conditions a student/ graduate can have a placement. Unfortunately there is no such a sheme and most skills are learnt while working and it highly depends on where you work because agencies and companies set the rules, i.e doing public affairs requires skills a bit different than those for event management:)

Nathalie said...

this is really good babe, a really critical insight. I had never seriously considered unpaid work experience as exploitative, just a bit of a pain in the arse. Yet now that I think about it, graduate employers were not doing this before all of the media hype about a saturated job market. What is more, if corporations can exploit workers thousands of miles away via sweat shops and poor pay, why would they have any qualms about doing it here. The inconvenient truth is, in this competitive market economy- morals have never really come into the equation.

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Tom Westgate
I am 21 and currently in my second year of a Public Relations and Communications degree at Southampton Solent University and it is awesome. I love hanging out with my friends and I enjoy playing football and rugby and I go surfing with my friends every year! I know when I'm older I definitely want to work in a big city, preferably somewhere hot and on the coast! But before I think about getting a job I want to go travelling. I just want to make the most of my life and see the world! In's allll goood!
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