Is academia failing the future of PR?

Are PR programs teaching students practical skills, such as Excel and video editing, to land a job and succeed upon graduation? Weigh in.

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Why do PR people hate Excel so much?

I know the answer because I’m one of the people who hate it. It is the bane of my existence. But it’s something I need to know (and, I need to know it better), as I work with many Fortune 500 clients. In that world, Excel and PowerPoint rule. And by rule, I mean R-U-L-E.

Many PR people hate Excel because it’s all about process. And, deep down, it’s about analysis.

And those are skills many PR people lack—and don’t care they lack. More important, those are skills PR people never learned—in school or on their own.

Those process and analytic skills are becoming more important all the time. It’s high time our academic institutions caught up.

I discussed this topic with a couple of professor friends last week.

Here’s the crux of what’s happening:

Academia thinks liberal arts degrees prepare students for the real world. It’s about theories, concepts and well, liberal arts (and they’re right, to a large extent).

The business world thinks students should graduate ready to hit the ground running, with some training. (I may be speaking out of school here, as I don’t hire individuals, so I’m speculating based on what I see/hear.)

Academia, despite what they may say, doesn’t care as much about preparing kids for the business world. If they did, wouldn’t there be classes in PR programs for video production, Facebook advertising management, and PowerPoint development? Aren’t those some of the skills that employers need from young talent?

This is the same issue as when I graduated almost 20 years ago. Back then, the Internet was shiny and new. The conundrum was the same. Don’t get me wrong. I got a great education. I love my university (Winona State). I sit on the alumni board. But my school didn’t prepare me for much of the technical and somewhat important parts of jobs I was applying for. At the time, that meant experience with programs like Quark and Photoshop. Those were discussed at a very high level in class, but we never dove in deep. Those were the skills employers were looking for. So, I taught myself.

Is that what we’re expecting kids to do now? Teach themselves about digital strategy, how to edit video, and run a native advertising campaign?

Those are just some of the tasks employers are asking young professionals to do today.

Is academia failing the future of our profession? I know that sounds a little inflammatory, but I’m really hoping to spark a discussion.

What do you think?

A version of this article first appeared on Arik Hanson’s blog, Communications Conversations.

Topics: PR

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