learning, learning, always learning

By Darren Caveney

I was lucky enough to be asked to talk to a group of final year PR students at Manchester Metropolitan University recently about PR careers in the public sector.

I was invited by Sarah Williams, senior PR lecturer at the University, and it was great to see the excellent work she and her colleagues are delivering to prepare the next batch of comms and PR folk for the world of paid employment.

Of course, it took me straight back to starting out in my own career, full of that heady, excited anticipation of where a sparkly new career may take me – somewhere glamorous, working for an exciting brand and maybe travelling around the world and back in the process.

So I wasn’t sure that me, extolling the virtues of a career in the oft maligned public sector, and specifically local government, would float the collective boats of our students.

But actually, there seemed to be a lot of interest and understanding of some of the opportunities available to them and of the associated challenges.

Now I’m a firm believer that just about everything us comms folk get involved with provides another opportunity to learn something new.

And so I learned three important lessons on my trip to Manchester:

  1. Young people don’t read newspapers
  2. Young people don’t know what services local authorities deliver*
  3. Young people face a huge challenge in getting that all important first step on the career ladder

Of course, I’m overstating the case in all three examples, and anyway there isn’t anything earth shatteringly new in these three statements is there.

I asked the students if they bought or read a daily newspaper. None did.

I probed a little further and asked about the weekend papers and supplements. Just one admitted to reading a Sunday newspaper (electronically, via an iPhone)  

It was the answer I expected but an interesting exercise nonetheless.

I then asked them to name five council services. They got to four*, which given that a large local authority can deliver up to 800 services wasn’t a great return was it? (*can you guess the four they named, I wonder – see the end of the post for the answer)

Well actually, in my experience this was very much par for the course when asking most local residents about their awareness of council services.

Of course the fault lies with us, not them. And it’s a timely reminder that there is still much for council comms people to do to promote all of our services.  And not via local newspapers if your target audience is young people…

Of course, there are many services that you only ever need to use and interact with just a handful of times in your life - for equally brilliant and horrible reasons think birth and death.

So we know that many, many of our services are not exactly ‘top of mind’ amongst our customers. If you don’t have children you might not think about the role of schools and local authorities. Likewise fostering, adoption, trading standards, environmental health, car parks the list goes on and on.

Lessons aplenty there.

Finally, my visit was a reminder of the challenge facing our young people entering the profession. Smart, savvy and working hard to achieve, let’s hope that the opportunities for tor them to begin and progress their careers are there, and not just restricted to ‘unpaid work experience and voluntary internships.’

With so many good senior people struggling to find good quality work let’s keep our collective fingers crossed that these young graduates don’t end up going elsewhere due to a lack of opportunities.

And, personally, I hope that I managed to convince at least one of them to give local government PR a go.

(Quiz answers – the four services named, in order were: Trading standards, waste collection, libraries and schools)

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