One of the PR industry’s thinkers, Stephen Waddington, has just written a great opinion piece over on PR Moment, about the value of interns, and the value, including remuneration, that they should receive from employers.

In case you want some background before reading on, you can find out about the recent PR industry intern furore here and about the Tory intern auction scandal here

For me there are three key issues in this debate. The first is that interns should be paid for their work. In my mind there is no question about this. In the UK we have a proud history, dating back to the Tolpuddle Martyrs and before, of demanding and receiving fair treatment. We also have a history of exceptions to this rule, but the PR industry shouldn’t be one of them. 

The second issue is that PR companies shouldn’t need to recruit unpaid staff. As consultants we should, and normally do, charge our clients a fair rate for our services. As a result, if a consultancy is structured properly it should be able to offer its employees a fair wage. There is something questionable to me about an agency that is using free labour to meet client objectives. 

A week’s work experience offered without remuneration to a local GCSE student is one thing. (And frankly even then a little bonus at the end of the week is a nice gesture). An extensive internship offered to a qualified and work ready adult without payment isn’t really acceptable. 

Were I on the client side of the equation, I would make this issue a criterion for getting on my pitch list. Not out of charity or goodwill to all men, but because I would doubt the competency of an agency using free labour. 

The third and final issue is the suitability of interns for employment in the PR industry. I’ve just finished recruiting a recent graduate to join the engineering communications team here at Stone Junction and I can reinforce Waddington’s opinion that graduate skills levels aren’t everything they should be. That said, I have also interviewed a host of outstanding graduates and several that I wish I could employ but can’t. 

It seems that the self-starters have the required skill level but the coasters don’t. This suggests that motivated graduates might be picking up these skills somewhere other than university. One graduate recently told me that she felt that the standard of her Master’s degree in a communications discipline wasn’t sufficiently challenging (and she proved it by getting a distinction with ease). 

I think it’s time for the education system to address the content of its syllabus and the PR industry to address its view of what constitutes a fair day’s work in exchange for a fair day’s pay. 

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