To go or not to go?

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I find it strange that it has already been two years since I received my A-Level results. I remember it being an odd day with mixed emotions. I didn’t know where I wanted to go from there and would have never expected to have a full time job and a head start on my career two years later. I’m now over half-way through my apprenticeship and even though I’m making my way to work every morning while all my friends are lounging around in the sun (currently rain) for three months, I’m happy to say that I do not regret the decision I made.

500,000 places are available in UK universities this year – the highest number to date. It’s great that everyone who wants to go to university can, but the question is, are the 500,000 young people going to be ready for the world of work after three years at university? For most, university is thought to be a ticket to success. But, more and more employers are finding it hard to fill places with graduates who have the necessary skills for the job.

The other day I read that in 2011, a survey by the Young Enterprise charity found that three in four corporate chiefs believed graduate skills were poor. The charity’s chairman said that employers are finding it harder than ever to fill positions because the Department for Education is adopting an alarmingly narrow focus on academic skills and exams. This will mean that fewer students emerge from education with the necessary employability skills.

Having declined my place at university in favour of a Higher Apprenticeship, I see the value of a vocational route over the often blinkered approach of a university course. A full time job working alongside people who have had years of experience has definitely enhanced my employability skills. Slowly but surely I think that more people are starting to see the value of these vocational routes. This week a poll commissioned by British Gas found that 40 per cent of London teenagers said they were considering a vocational route instead of higher education. Understandably, the majority of students are most tempted by the opportunity to “earn while you learn”, but they should also realise how important it is to have practical experience. When my friends finish uni in a couple of years, I will already have had years of experience in my chosen career.

While it is encouraging to see that nearly half of students consider apprenticeships instead of university, there is a still long way to go in promoting the alternatives to students, schools and wider society, especially as universities are offering up so many more places and fighting for students who are willing to offer up £9,000 a year. There is no right or wrong option; everyone should be able to make their own decision about the route they want to take after leaving school. Most people I speak to have had a great time at university and I’m glad that more and more people now have the chance to go… I just hope they are prepared to fight for a job at the end of it.

Can you fix a crisis?

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Unfortunately, in PR we tend to come across the term ‘crisis’ quite often, probably because we are always on standby in case our clients have an emergency.

Crisis management is such an important tool in PR purely because a crisis has the potential to seriously damage a reputation. Think back to last year when it was revealed that a selection of Tesco and ASDA beef products contained horsemeat. I don’t know about you, but that definitely made me think differently about shopping there and added to their ‘cheap’ image.

A crisis can appear in many different shapes and forms but there are certain steps we can take to minimise damage. So what did Tesco and ASDA do to manage their crisis? Well, Tesco placed full-page adverts in national UK newspapers apologising for the scandal, while ASDA attempted to pass the blame onto someone else. The way they managed the issue definitely had an effect on their reputation. In this case, I would predict customers would be more likely to rebuild the trust they have in Tesco than ASDA, as an apology demonstrates values and social responsibility. That is, of course, unless you believe that it genuinely wasn’t ASDA’s fault…but that’s a different debate.

Inevitably, when situations like this arise we, as customers, lose a little faith and think slightly less of the brands we are buying from. In this particular situation, we may also be weary when buying beef products. However, having worked in PR for a little while now, I have noticed that there are still things that we can do to gain back a bit of the public’s trust. Personally I think the most important thing you can do is respond appropriately. No matter what the situation, you should explain what happened, why it happened and what you are going to do in the future. You should also make sure you have deployed allies and ambassadors who can speak positively about the company. After all, PR is all about what others are saying about you.

Last week at Health+Care our chairman, Trevor Morris, professor of PR, held a session on crisis and reputation management. Speaking to a range of healthcare professionals, he gave them some really clear and simple ways to manage a crisis. However, the one thing that stuck with me and got me thinking about the horsemeat scandal was when he said you should never underestimate the power of an apology. He noted that lawyers will often tell you not to apologise to avoid admitting guilt, but you should always do so after a crisis because the public will appreciate the consideration.

I know that saying sorry can’t solve every problem, but it often makes a good start after a crisis. However, prevention is always better than cure, and improving communications in the health sector more generally will definitely help to avoid crises. To contribute, Salix & Co has just joined ITN productions to form a new communication network for the NHS Alliance (formally launched by Trevor’s session at Health+Care). We will be offering members simple and practical guidelines to help them communicate effectively with patients and the public to manage potentially damaging media situations.

So, to return to the question: can we fix a crisis? Well, avoiding them all together is the ideal, but there are also certain measures you can take to improve a damaging situation. Saying sorry definitely would have helped Luis Suarez after biting Giorgio Chiellini – apparently his refusal to accept he had done wrong played a big part in deciding the length of his ban. Missing out on the rest of the World Cup and four month exclusion… bet he wished he apologised sooner now.

Ok so I have left school….what now?

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I’ve always felt like I was the only person who didn’t know what to do in life. Strangely the tables have turned and I’m the first who’s actually started a career. How did this happen? I’m still asking myself the same thing.

It all started at school when I took a careers test, which told me I was going to be an agricultural farmer. From then on I didn’t have much faith in the careers advice. All through sixth form I went along to university open days, went to all the subject talks and eventually applied to university. But, in the back of my mind I couldn’t imagine myself at university, living in halls or studying something I wasn’t 100% interested in. And then there is the £9,000 a year price tag. The devil on my shoulder kept asking me, “Do you really want to spend that kind of money on something you’re not sure about?” Whilst the angel was telling me, “You will always have a degree to fall back on and besides, what else would you do?” Plus all my friends were going and the student loan would cover most of the costs so why not?

For all those who are as confused as I was having left school… go travelling. 6 months, 14 countries, really cleared my head. Before I went away I had a place at university. I planned to go off and study with all my friends, which trust me, would have been the easier option. One day somewhere in the Namibian desert it clicked that university wasn’t right for me.

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When everyone left London to go off and study, I bagged myself a PR internship. I was anxious that the risk wouldn’t pay off and I would have to go to uni next year but the excitement of working in London took my mind off it. The problem is that people still have that old fashioned view that you can only be successful if you have a degree. Did you know that a quarter of graduates earn less than former apprentices? After that I managed to get an apprenticeship at Salix & Co, a PR company specialising in the health and social sector. Even though it wasn’t my preferred sector at first, it grows on me every day. I am now an assistant account executive….snazzy ey?

A lot of people presume that if you don’t go to university it’s because you don’t get the grades or that you can’t be bothered to study anymore. Maybe it’s true for some but in my case it couldn’t be more wrong. I enjoy learning new things but wanted to do this on the job whilst improving my employability skills. Plus I just wanted to make some money, who doesn’t?

University is different now. The majority of my friends either went because they didn’t know what else to do, it’s the ‘right’ thing to do or because they didn’t want to miss out on the ‘university experience.’ Are people really willing to have £50,000 debt for an experience? Don’t get me wrong, if your dream is to become a doctor or teacher then yes, you do need that qualification. But nowadays there are people actually spending thousands of pounds on David Beckham studies. Really?

It’s all coming back to me at this moment because I’m sitting on the train en route to Bristol University. It’s certainly nice to have the odd taster of university life and I always have a good time visiting friends. But, it also confirms that I 100% made the right decision. Uni just isn’t for everyone.

If an apprenticeship sounds like a possible option for you then watch this space and find out what it’s like to be a PR apprentice in the real world. It’s also worth a look at www.unisnotforme.com for more advice and to explore what other options are out there.

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