05/11/2014

By Tom Kirkham, Director, Citypress


While youth unemployment may now finally be starting to trickle downwards, the past few years have certainly seen a renewed emphasis in the business world – and of course in the media – on the subject of entry level jobs. As the debate has played out, one of the things I’ve been most alarmed by is the number of job candidates I interview who have had to spend two or three month stints doing unpaid interning.

At our PR agency we make a clear distinction between work experience and longer-term intern positions, and we pay salaries for internships as we believe it’s fundamentally the right thing to do.

Work experience however is another matter. I’m surprised more firms don’t organise a work experience programme. Perhaps some of them feel it’s too much hassle, or that the nature of their work is not appropriate for inexperienced young people often lacking the relevant qualifications. With the latter, there is for most businesses an element of truth to this.

But at the same time, I’d argue that every business has a responsibility both to the community and the industry in which it operates. Start by thinking about the students that submit the innumerable work experience applications you receive every week. These students probably attend the same schools, colleges and universities as many of your staff’s children.

Without affording them the opportunity to come and spend a little time in your workplace, these students may find it a tricky transition to a professional office environment. They can secure jobs in pubs and bars, waiting tables or operating tills, but without office experience they’re going to struggle to land office-based jobs.

As responsible employers, we have a duty to give these young people the opportunity to gain skills and experience that will help make them attractive employees. We also owe it to our industry to ensure that we’re fuelling the pipeline of future talent. We can’t offer every promising young person a permanent role with us, but we can give them a better flavour of what our industry is all about, easing their path into employment elsewhere. The health of a people-centric industry such as ours is ultimately likely to be determined by the amount of investment its businesses make in facilitating the path of entry to young and talented prospects.

In the short term of course, at relatively low cost or inconvenience, your business can take advantage of an ongoing supply of additional junior resource, most often bright students hungry for the opportunity to impress and prove their capabilities. It’s also a great chance to give some of your comparatively less-experienced employees a shot at managing someone else’s time and workload – a useful starting point on their path towards assuming a more business-critical role.

Organisations should also bear in mind that the promising work experience helper they took on for a fortnight may be back on the job market in 3-4 years time, equipped with useful additive experience to bring to their business. Similarly, they may become a potential future client or customer. Karma does not tend to be the soundest of principles on which to build a business, but there’s no doubt that developing a positive reputation amongst your industry’s future workforce – by opening your doors to them – is more likely than not to benefit you at some point further down the line.


Tom Kirkham is a Director at PR consultancy Citypress, and heads up the agency’s learning and development programme.