apprentices - the way forward for PR?

Apprentices are an increasingly important asset in the workforce, and maybe more than ever for the PR industry.

by Stuart Baird

One of the most rewarding aspects of my work in the media and public relations over the last 20 years is seeing new starters grow in confidence, take more and more responsibility and then go on to greater and better things. And that is why I and my organisation are supporting National Apprenticeship Week between 11 – 15 March.

My employer, Leicestershire Partnership NHS Trust (LPT) has recruited 140 apprentices since 2009 and more than 75% have remained with us for fixed term or permanent roles. Roles have included healthcare, business administration, finance, physiotherapy, occupational therapy and school nurse assistants. And crucially for me, public relations and communications.

We all have to start somewhere – in the media and public relations it is often at the foot of the ladder and it can often be ‘sink or swim’. In one of my roles as a journalist the only development I received in two years was when I received a five minute expletive filled phone call from my editor for a typo in the word ‘Michael’ – his name was Michael. Or is it Michael ?!

As I moved into the world of public relations, I saw in Whitehall and PR agencies a more enlightened approach with full development programmes and the realisation that the junior staffer of today could be the senior hire of tomorrow.  The best companies invest in their talent, who in turn become superb staff members, loved by clients who see their campaigns delivered with creativity and verve and the company saves itself the price of a senior consultant in the process.

A properly developed apprentice who has a good experience remains loyal to the organisation saving on turnover and recruitment costs, their youth and enthusiasm inspire existing staff. An apprentice can challenge existing processes and systems and introduce innovation into the workplace and finally, in these austere times, the taxpayer wins because organisations are developing their own talent not paying for others to do it for them.

Over my career I have had the privilege of helping young people develop and grow into superb PR professionals.  At least four spring to mind in Government.  After coaching, mentoring and development I eventually saw them develop and manage campaigns and dozens of team members, eyeball the most senior of PR executives and say ‘I can do this better than you’, win business worth over £500,000 and tell senior officials exactly what to say in front of that TV camera and woe betide them if they said anything else.  Of those four, one is still delivering excellent Government campaigns, one has her own company and two others are very senior PR professionals in the NHS and Oxbridge.

In my current role I adopted one of the Trust’s apprenticeship success stories. Laiqaah Manjra, 20, of Leicester, decided to take an apprenticeship with the comms team here after she dropped out of her IT course at college.

Laiqaah started out doing little more than undertaking basic administration roles, at the same time getting college release time to get a NVQ. However with help, coaching and management from  dedicated communication team members, Laiqaah took on more and more responsibility and last year was an integral part of our communications and PR activity, helping for example to deliver showcase events such as our staff awards and huge public consultation exercises.

She joined the Trust’s communications team in April 2011 for 12 months and two years on is still with us. The plan is to develop her further so she can take on more varied and challenging roles, developing her own value and skills while providing a superb team member for the Trust.

Laiqaah herself said:  “I was in the second year of an IT course and I wasn’t enjoying myself or thinking this is the career for me. I would probably have picked up a job anywhere when my mum suggested I apply for an apprenticeship.” She never looked back.

“Not only was I learning on the job but I was being paid to study as well and got a qualification at the end of it. Now I have more and more variety in my work and the team are teaching me new skills every day.”

This week it will be Laiqaah who will be supporting our local social media push backing National Apprenticeship Week (#NAW2013) – so look out for tweets form her.

When you take on an apprentice you are making a statement. That statement is: “I want to support you, I want to see you develop” – that to a young person is priceless. I would encourage all those in PR, whatever the scale of their business and whether or not they are private or public sector to seriously consider building apprentices into their strategies. Why not make that commitment during National Apprenticeship Week this year?

For more information on National Apprenticeship Week click here

Stuart Baird is Head of Communications at Leicestershire Partnership NHS Trust

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