Experts discuss MSL-PRmoment skills survey, recommend 18-month training cycles, micro learning for upskilling

The recently released MSL PRmoment PRogress 2019 report on Careers and Competencies in the PR business shows that professionals at both PR firms and in corporate communication teams are well aware of the skills they need in the future.

With the PR business evolving at a very fast pace, how does one upskill quickly, what kind of training programmes will work best, how do students of communications coming into the system feel about the profession? 

Two-panel discussions were hosted by the MSL Reputation Today SuperNight in Delhi and Mumbai in December. It attempted to answer some of these questions. Here are the main takeaways from the conversation.

Plan in 18 to 24-month cycles

One of the biggest challenges for communicators is to upskill for a future that is demanding new competencies every year.

Unmesh Pawar, KPMG recommends using training lessons from the IT sector for PR

In order to tackle that Unmesh Pawar, partner and head-people, performance and culture at KPMG India suggested planning training well in advance in 18 to 24-month cycles. This does require the ability to predict and anticipate what these new skill requirements would be.

Pawar said, "The IT industry does this very well. With technology changing so fast, they have to upskill quickly or lose out on money."

Minari Shah, director-PR, Amazon India agreed that communications has completely changed from what it was two decades ago. Shah said that what clients want most is to have PR firms offer an integrated communications plan that matches how the function has evolved."

Responding to an audience question from On Purpose's Girish Balachandran on the best ways to do that, Shah said PR firms can consider having a central strategy team that will then have a larger view of what the communication plan needs to deliver.

Snackable, not classroom training 

Puja Patel, VP-talent and culture at MSL India said that the service offerings are evolving at a fast pace. Patel says that often HR has to define emerging designations and roles within PR that are completely new such as data scientist or creative visualiser.

She said that given the fact that new skills are needed and quickly, the days of the classic classroom training models with an organisation are increasingly not a priority.

Instead, said Patel, organisations should consider, "Job rotation, mobility programmes and mentoring. These are all examples of on-the-job training that will go a long way in up-skilling millennials in the PR workforce."

A big supporter of continuous learning and on the job training, Patel said millennials like to learn at their own pace, in an environment that matches them. Therefore consuming a variety of micro-training modules across topics is gaining popularity.

Solving for talent 

Yasmin Taj, senior editor, global content, People Matters said that a recent survey by the  Predictive Index asked 156 CEOs 'What Keeps Them Up At Night?' Among the top challenges for CEOs were finding the right talent and employee performance and productivity.

The panellists: IIMC's Professor Anubhuti Yadav, People Matters' Yasmin Taj, MSL's Pooja Patel interact with MSL Reputation Today SuperNight's Amith Prabhu and PRmoment's Paarul Chand ahead of the discussion

Talent upskilling is, therefore, an issue that is global and being faced by several industries across the board. Taj said that tech-based HR is, therefore, emerging as an important component of how talent can be skilled and nurtured.

Professor ( Dr.) Anubhuti Yadav, course director of the advertising and PR post-graduation programme at the prestigious Indian Institute of Mass Communications said candidly that for students at the PR course, very often the PR profession is the 5th or 6th career choice. 

Professor Yadav, however, said that "This is more due to lack of awareness than anything else. These students may not have the necessary skills but are very bright young people. I invite the PR industry to come and visit us, interact with the students and help them understand the skill needs and potential of the profession."

Professor Yadav also said IIMC is working in collaboration with social media giants Facebook and Google to help students understand issues such as fake news.

Hemant Gaule, co-founder and dean, School of Communications & Reputation (SCoRe) said that the SCoRe school has had a different experience with students for their post-graduate course. 

Gaule said that they have taken an immersive internship approach to studying communication and their students are regarded as PR professionals from day one.

Gaule added that since their students come in wanting to learn about PR, lack of awareness and motivation is less of a challenge.

Carrying the team along with boomers and millennials 

In December memes on 'OK Boomer' have been trending referring to the generation gap between the millennials and those born in the 1940s to 1960s.

In PR teams too, like in many other sectors, several generations sit side by side on teams all on their separate learning curve.

Unmesh Pawar said one has to keep diversity and inclusion in mind while planning training. 

"You can't just shunt out the older generation. Learning has to be designed for teams across generations. Diversity is no longer an option but a must-have. Don't forget that increasingly your clients can be from marginalised sections due to age, caste, gender or sexual preferences. They will not want to hire you if they sense you don't have a robust inclusion and diversity work and skilling policy."

Patel concluded by saying a  "Culture of caring, continuous listening and learning needs to be the foundation of organisations in our industry."

 MSL Reputation Today SuperNight hosted the panel discussions in Delhi and Mumbai.

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