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The PR industry in the UK is expanding rapidly, but the numbers quitting the NHS and teaching are also rising. For society's sake, that needs to change.

Posted on Fri 9th Mar, 2018 in: Industry Comment by Phil Reed

It’s National Apprenticeship Week, which inevitably means a focus on how good quality apprenticeships are helping fill some of the UK’s skills gaps.

Barely a day goes by without a new report bemoaning Britain’s lack of engineers, nurses, teachers, cyber specialists and so on. Each report paints a grim future of an economy struggling to achieve growth because we either can’t bring enough young people into those careers or we can’t keep them.

A report published recently by the British Chambers of Commerce said skills shortages in some sectors – particularly services and manufacturing – were at “critical levels”. Depending on your view of Brexit, those shortages may worsen after March 2019.

Yet this is also the time of year when employers like us are inundated with CVs from graduates keen to take their first step onto the PR career ladder.

Across the UK, there are around 70 undergraduate and postgraduate degree courses in PR-related disciplines alone. But, of course, we also recruit graduates of English, history, maths, political science, philosophy and applied golf management. OK, maybe not the last one, but you get the idea.

According to the last PRCA census, there are 83,000 people working in the UK PR industry. If you add associated roles in social media, marketing communications, internal communications, event management and so on, you can probably double that figure – at least.

The PRCA says the UK PR industry has expanded by a third in the last three years and is now worth around £13bn. Over the same period, the number of people abandoning careers in nursing and midwifery has risen by around 50%, and a report by Eteach last year said two thirds of the teachers it surveyed planned to leave the profession in the next three years.

In 2016 there were almost 9,000 fewer full-time classroom teachers in our secondary schools than in 2013, and the Eteach report suggested almost a quarter of all teaching roles were vacant.

And that’s my issue.

I want to say that a rapidly-expanding PR industry is a positive thing. Great for recruitment. Great for growth. Great for increasing the pool of talent and the range of skills available to employers and clients.

But, in all honesty, I can’t. Not when our A&E departments and classrooms are suffering from huge staff shortages.

Last year, a former colleague left PR to train as a teacher. And I thought that was brilliant.

Our industry lost a talented professional, but there’s a school out there that’s gained someone with a real passion for teaching.

Can anyone say that’s not a win for society, albeit a small one? Well, imagine if that was repeated a thousand times over.

Obviously I’m not advocating we all sign up for nursing or teacher training (frankly, I’d be dreadful at both – classrooms and hospital wards are my worst nightmare) but if we already have 160,000 PR/comms professionals, and 5,000 PR agencies, do we need more?

We need to improve the depth and breadth of skills across the PR industry, and we need to be more diverse and inclusive. But a bigger workforce? 

Let me be clear: I love working in PR. It's a great industry.

PR has a reputation in some quarters for being fluffy and image-obsessed, but many of us are here because we want to make a difference. We want to do things that, in some small way, have a positive impact on society. And sometimes we do, and it’s hugely satisfying.

But we don’t build stuff. We don’t invent or discover things. We don’t help wide-eyed, hyperactive youngsters become mature, intelligent adults. And we certainly don’t save lives.

So if just one person reads this* and decides that science is a better career route than PR, or chooses to swap their laptop for a chalkboard, I'll be the first to applaud them.

(* excluding any of my Aberfield colleagues!) 

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