Interns continued – again

New PRIA President, Mike Watson, has passed on to the blog a number of initiatives the PRIA is taking on internships – plus some research on what Registered Consultancy Group members think about interns.

First, the good news. The PRIA conducted a survey of 30 consultancies across Australia in September  2012. Just over half of respondents were from NSW, with Queensland and Victoria both contributing 15% each. Multiple consultancies from WA, SA and Victoria also participated.  40% of consultancies participating were small (1-5 staff), 27% mid-size and 33% large or multinationals. It found that: “80% of consultancies did not host tertiary work experience students to just observe in the office. The small number who did host work experience students offered only short time periods, generally only one or two weeks.”.

But “80% of consultancies in the survey hosted tertiary interns (ie. not just for observation).  60% of all consultancies surveyed hosted multiple interns with more than 15% of consultancies surveyed hosting more than six interns each during the previous year.

“In nearly 90% of cases, interns were in their final year of study.  72% of consultancies offered long term employment to some of their work experience or intern students.  Nearly all interns were hosted for more than a week.  In nearly half of all cases, each student was hosted for more than a month.

“Consultancies were overwhelmed by the enthusiasm, enthusiasm and enthusiasm of interns.  There were glowing reports using words such as: eagerness, willingness, commitment, and professionalism.

“Consultancies also hoped that academic institutions would develop better writing skills, project management, better understanding of media structures and story pitching processes, basic office computer skills such as word documents layouts and excel spreadsheets, oh, and did anyone mention writing,” the survey report said.

The details can be found at along with the PRIA guidelines issued to employers on hosting interns. The guidelines stemmed from a recognition that more information on intern programs was required in the areas of payment and Fair Work Act requirements; academic expectations, and intern management processes.

Now the blog dismisses the ‘writing’ thing because journalists, PR people etc etc etc etc are always complaining that young graduates can’t write. Now there are some exceptional people who write like the love children of Raymond Chandler and Leo Tolstoy from a very early age but most of us need to spend years getting better and better at it. Given the nature of our industry – and the range of things someone might need to write – that’s not surprising. After all how many jobs require you to switch between speech writing, research reports, background summaries for media, media releases, Tweets, policy analyses, submissions and so on within the same week.

But the bigger question is: if the PRIA consultancies (30 of them at least) are doing the right thing and the PRIA has got robust guidelines – where is the problem?  Generally speaking bigger employers – such as listed companies – would have robust HR guidelines and the blog is inclined they are not the problem either.  Possibly it could be unrealistic student expectations or the arrogance of the young. The blog was guilty of both at various career stages as were many of the people the blog has come across in the industry over the years.

But the blog’s belief is that the problem is indeed a big one and that exploitation is rife – as the Fair Work Ombudsman report found. Sadly it could be another indication of the fact that the PRIA covers only a small percentage of the communications and PR industry; that despite HR guidelines even the biggest companies have problems with managers exploiting or bullying staff; and that there are an awful lot of smaller and medium size companies out there who are exploiting the system to cut costs. Liberal Party industrial relations spokespeople, echoing the choruses in employer organisations, are always talking about how unfair dismissal laws and other regulations are so unfair to small and medium enterprises. Yet all the evidence suggests unfair dismissal laws, along with penalties for refusing to pay the going rate, are needed most when it comes to curbing the greed and dishonesty prevalent among some employers in the SME ranks.

What is to be done? The blog’s not sure but exposure of those who exploit; counselling of students on what’s acceptable or not; and, guidelines from universities and Fair Work Australia are all part of the solution. But whether the problems which stem from desperation of the young to get a start and the willingness of some employers to exploit this for their own purposes can ever be completely solved is another question. Nevertheless it’s a question worth trying to answer.