When I graduated from school in 1990 with my major in Radio and lucky enough to have a job in my field, I already knew that my chosen industry was changing drastically. While learning radio production meant cutting tape with razor blades and taping it together, digital production was starting to change our jobs completely. First, digital recording came in, then full-scale digital editing systems. Fortunately I embraced the challenge, always loving computers and the nascent digital world even back then.
What now, and what about other professions? Certainly, journalism students are graduating into an uncertain world. What will their profession look like in two years, or even six months? How about PR students? As a public relations professional, I have spent some time chatting with PR students, and wonder if the rapid changes in the media will leave them working in a world for which they did not feel prepared. Biggest on my mind, of course, is social media. A couple of years ago, some students I spoke with felt they were not getting enough social media instruction. Frankly, we professionals were learning on the job at that time as well, and still are. Now, it seems there is much more awareness of social media in academic circles, with a number of PR professors being active in online communities, and more and more students following suit.
Still, I asked students, recent graduates and these professors what they thought about concerns for translating education to an ever-changing workplace:
The Students and Young Practitioners (Names Redacted)
“A ton of info in my very outdated communications theory book is not applicable. Some stuff in my media relations — again, outdated.”
“PR is in the middle of a bunch of changes with the emergence of social media, so I’m sure when I get out there will be even more.”
“I think those of us who are taking initiative to learn more outside of the classroom won’t be as ‘shocked’ by those changes.”
Definitely some topics in my communications theory class are VERY outdated; teaches us what “pages” and “links” are on the web.”
“It’s more like what you don’t get taught! It’s been a while since I graduated, but AP style seems to no longer exist.”
“Ever heard of a successful PR that used one model and the one they learned in College? Education forms a baseline knowledge and little else.”
“Social media teaches us to adapt to these changes so even if the courses are not completely updated we can understand how to adapt.”
“My college teacher prepared us for ‘real’ world PR, though I wasn’t ready for ‘immediate’ deadlines.”
“I’m glad that the PR world is changing- it makes my generation more marketable because we’ve grown up using these new media outlets!”
“I am concerned, as a grad student. It seems PR professors are teaching many old tools with not enough emphasis on new ways.”
“I graduated from Masters 2 yrs ago but distinctly remember feeling like nothing was applicable.”
“I’m a marketing student, but I find most of what I learn is inapplicable. Most irritating: the ignorance about social media.”
Dr. Mihaela Vorvoreanu, Clemson University (hyperlink: http://prconnections.net/)
“I don’t teach a profession; I teach strategic thinking and problem solving, and fundamental principles and theories…
“…A friend once asked me: ‘What can you teach them that will STILL be useful fifty years from now? I try to mix short and long term skills.”
Robert French, Auburn University (hyperlink: http://www.auburnmedia.com/)
“Awareness of the changes and adapting to the new methods/tools is important. Still, the key skills of ‘writing & interpersonal’ rule…
“…I often remind students that in some exercises, we’re still using core skills. Writing, interpersonal, video … it’s just online…
“…Don’t get caught up in the new shiny thing … yet, know if it works for you (and know how it works)…
“…Like (Mihaela), I also think about this a lot. I just hope I’m prepping them the best way & the right way.”
Karen Russell, University of Georgia (hyperlink: http://www.teachingpr.org/)
“At UGA we teach principles that can be applied even as things change and promote that they must keep up with change.”
Steve Quigley, Boston University (hyperlink: http://web.bu.edu/com/about/faculty/stephen_quigley.html)
“One great student: ‘No offense but this new media stuff stresses me out. Just when we learn the ropes, they change’…
“….OR: ‘The books says publicity is just a PART of PR …yet at my internship it’s all I do!” Amen to that one.”
Adding what these students and educators generously shared with me to my own experience, I can say this: be prepared by knowing your fundamentals: writing, communications and critical thinking among others. I feel students and their teachers are indeed thinking about what awaits them after graduation, and what they don’t know about it. That may be the best way to be prepared.
Doug Haslam is an Account Director at Boston’s SHIFT Communications, and blogs at DougHaslam.com.