With nearly two decades of experience in PR, Communications, Event Management, Learning & Development, and more, Roshan has been instrumental in defining communication campaigns of several renowned international companies in Manufacturing, B2C, B2B, Automotive, Technology, Retail, FMCG, Lifestyle and Sports.
As a continually evolving practice, Public Relations is an art form which requires specific foundational skills from a fresher entering the profession. Post-covid, the industry has been a great demand as companies and people realise the importance of constant communication with all their stakeholders.
Naturally, this has led to an explosion of roles in the industry. However, there is a severe gap in professionals with the required skill sets in the industry.
While it is true that much about PR and Communications is learned on the job, there are certain basic skills that one is required to develop at the university. Employers expect new graduates understand how to navigate a digital and integrated environment in their new careers.
Writing, research, and presentation skills are core, and secondary skills expected today are social media listening and analytics, a creative marketing mindset, and a hunger to learn in-depth about various industry sectors. Lack of business literacy among communication graduates is another sore point.
The gap between the industry’s requirements and the skill set is constantly widening due to the academic curriculum’s inability to keep pace with industry changes. In many universities, the PR aspect in communications is typically sandwiched between the advertising and marketing courses, reduced to a chapter or two at best.
This chapter(s) is also quite outdated and fails to recognise the importance of communications in today’s world or the changes the PR practice has undergone in the last decade.
With the industry undergoing digital transformation and data analytics coming to the fore, the focus must also be on creating competency with digital tools and digital know-how. An industry fresher today is unaware of standard tools for social listening or content management platforms.
Secondly, a more significant focus on soft skills training — persuasion, interpersonal communication and relationship building, presentation, and critical thinking — must be inculcated before a student can be deemed industry-ready. Developing better business literacy, data analytics, global literacy, and management skills are necessary.
These are typically missing in the curriculum for a communications graduate but are the norm for a business graduate.
Specialisations such as education for newer roles such as social listening, monitoring of content to trend-spot, data analytics, community management, integrated marketing communications, and visual communications are great value additions to a student’s profile.
Learning on the Job
As mentioned earlier, much of the learning happens on the job in the communications industry. It is also crucial for professionals to keep learning and exploring new things. The rapid growth in technology makes it imperative for professionals to keep abreast of the latest trends – every day.
Developing a learning mindset is essential to the PR practice, as learning new things at every step is part of the PR profession. It becomes vital to make it an early practice for a student to develop such a mindset and set personal and professional development goals.
While learning on the job will happen, the best professionals invest in self-learning and constant up-skilling. They spot trends and research them, learn more in-depth about the topic or trend, and then apply their learnings to their work. Flexible and fast-adapting professionals are also among the best in the industry, evident from their self-learning approach.
Universities must have short courses for up-skilling professionals, providing exposure to industry leaders and trends that equip them to take on leadership roles. The existing curriculum can be broken down to focus on specialisations, where students can navigate towards an area of interest or based on their aptitude.
How to Bridge the Gap
The most apparent solution to bridge the skill gap is to create a collaborative ecosystem between academia and industry with the focused objective of balancing supply and demand.
As with other industries that have progressed with future-gazing industry-academia initiatives, such collaborations can address critical aspects such as redesigning curricula, focusing on mentoring, specialised topics and case studies, and talent spotting, thereby helping make students industry ready to a more significant extent.
A lot depends on what kind of framework is eventually developed and what proactive measures are taken by both industry and academia that can result in sustainable talent development for both stakeholders. To reiterate, to create a valuable talent pool, it is critical on our part to collectively take up the task of mentoring young minds and show the way forward to them.
The onus is on every industry professional at all experience levels to nurture and pass on the baton of knowledge and know-how to the newer batches. At the university level, more such regular exchanges will also result in better talent-spotting and standards for the next generations of the workforce, who will be more confident with a clear vision of their professional future.