ITL #451 Developing the future of the profession: how higher education and the industry should work together

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Upcoming generations of public relations professionals must cultivate strong and clear voices through academic-industry partnerships. By Juan-Carlos Molleda.



The future of the public relations and communication management profession depends on a constant flow of talented, well-trained, and networked young professionals. Institutions of higher education and the industry must partner to help them become career ready and up to the challenges that our fragile and troubled world faces. In my experience as professor, administrator, and member of academic and industry boards or councils, career readiness and advancement require recruitment, retention, development, networking, mentorship, and leadership.

Recruitment – The time that we passively wait for students to find, select, and register for our educational programs and courses is over. We must be active to attract eager and committed learners who will work hard and take full advantage of our curricular and co-curricular offerings from day one, and perhaps create their own co-curricular innovations. Agencies and organizations have experience in recruiting talent and partnering with universities and colleges to cultivate future professionals during the pursuit of their degrees. Both academia and industry understand the value of a diverse workforce and the imperative urgency to bring a variety of perspectives to intellectual debate and work.

Retention – Not every student or young professional is self-motivated and self-starting to progressively advance in their education or career. In fact, some may need more guidance or support than others. Regardless of their strengths or weaknesses, students and upcoming professionals need to keep up with opportunities and overcome obstacles to progress. Together, academia and industry can join forces to show the various paths to success and offer complementary advice, resources, and even financial aid or compensation to students or junior professionals who need an extra boost to thrive and develop their full capacity.

Development – Classroom instruction and theory alone will not make students career ready. Hands-on, co-curricular experiences, and portfolio building are essential for holistic learning. Students involved with the practice and professional insights and expectations throughout their educational programs are better prepared for entry-level positions and career progress. In my academic career I have noticed a pattern for the successful transition from higher education to the workplace: The more robust a student’s portfolio is, the higher the chances to be employed at graduation and, most likely, the faster their career progression. At Oregon, for instance, students get to work in student-led and faculty inspired agencies or collectives with real clients; go on guided site visits to major U.S. markets of the public relations and media sectors, such as San Francisco, Los Angeles, Chicago, and New York; present their portfolios, interview, and be evaluated by senior professionals; produce campaigns for sports teams with donor funds; and participate in regional and national case study competitions, among other activities.

Networking – Getting that first job is a challenge; getting the second and third jobs becomes easier with the accumulation of working relationships, professional networks, and expertise. In addition to academic and professional training, it takes personal initiative and skills to start, maintain, and foster industry connections. One of the best practices is student participation in university chapters of professional associations or societies, as well as their attendance of local, regional, national, and international association meetings and conferences. I have also seen students getting to know guest speakers and professionals in residence or visiting professionals (in-person and virtually), following up with them after the campus activity or virtual event, and maintaining the link through their studies and then employment. Effective networking and the cultivation of long-lasting professional connections pays off and leads to the establishment of formal and informal mentoring relationships.

Mentorship – Learning and mastering life and work balance requires expert and trusted guidance and insights. This is especially true for underrepresented groups or individuals who have not grown up with adults in professional fields. I have been adopted and have adopted other professors, scholars, and professionals throughout the years of my education and working life. The perspectives and questions that formal and informal mentees contribute help us analyze situations and identify solutions to problems. I have adopted mentees or been adopted by mentees, including former students who are now mid-career or senior professionals, who bring so much richness and reward throughout the lifetime of the mentoring process. Thus, in a respectful and cordial mentoring relationship both mentors and mentees learn and grow together.

Leadership – Having a sharp, strong, clear, and unique voice both as student and professional benefits not only the individual themselves, but their classmates and coworkers. Leaders have the virtue of motivating others to row in the same direction and accomplish common objectives. The complex issues society and, therefore, the public relations profession experience today and will face in the future need junior and senior professionals who excel and rise to the occasion. Agencies, organizations, and professional associations and societies are in urgent need for junior and senior leaders who move the industry to higher levels.

The social, political, economic, cultural, and environmental forces we are all living in are rapidly changing higher education and the professions we support. The significant challenges the world and the profession face demand willing, capable, ethical, resilient, and dynamic junior and senior professionals. We are all responsible for the training and preparation of emergent generations of public relations and communication management professionals who will further develop the industry and produce, ideally, positive impactful and lasting progress in all sectors of society. Let’s continue developing the future of the profession by working, strategizing, and reflecting together, academia and industry, on education and practice as two interdependent elements of the formula for sustainable advancement of the sector all over the world.

 


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The Author

Juan-Carlos Molleda

Juan-Carlos Molleda is the Edwin L. Artzt Dean and Professor of the University of Oregon School of Journalism and Communication since 2016. He is co-director of the Latin American Communication Monitor, member of the Institute for Public Relations’ Board of Trustees, The LAGRANT Foundation’s Board of Directors, the Plank Center for Leadership in Public Relations’ Board of Advisors, the HIV Alliance’s Board of Directors, and the Jordan Schnitzer Museum of Art’s Leadership Council.

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