Graduates of Communication Studies may often face questions with the tone of, “Why do you need four years of school just to study communication? We communicate every day.” Over time, this discipline is often seen as an easy choice, and each year, the number of applicants for Communication Studies at the university level skyrockets.

What is not widely understood is the fact that Communication Studies is a discipline essential for individuals to master broader aspects of communication, including public affairs, which in its development has become a specialization in corporate communication that is currently and will continue to evolve. Universities play an important role in equipping communication talents with a solid theoretical foundation through various reading materials and learning.

However, many students face challenges with practical demands in the workplace. The gap between basic skills taught in universities and the specialization needs in the industry becomes a major challenge that needs to be addressed. A joint effort from universities and professional industries is required to bridge this gap and improve the quality of individuals to be more relevant to the rapidly developing industry needs.

Driving Factors

How can a communication professional sharpen their skills to be relevant to industry needs? Before discussing skills, it is important for us to understand the driving factors for the need of competent communication professionals. One of them is the rapid evolution of technology, which often surpasses academic curricula, demanding graduates who are more adept at navigating new digital platforms. On one side, after the COVID-19 era, awareness of the strategic role of communication with stakeholders has increased to ensure the achievement of communication and business goals.

Understanding the complexity of aspects that communication professionals need to master, theoretical understanding, and mastery of basic skills such as reading data to understand trends, writing narratives, and public speaking are indeed important. However, all of this needs to be strengthened with the ability to master non-market aspects such as political, social, and cultural contexts. Quoting “Public Affairs as a Support for Strategic Management” by Noke Kiroyan, these non-market aspects become part of the scope of public affairs work needed by large companies to maintain relationships with stakeholders and build a positive reputation.

To bridge this need, bringing together young talent and professionals in the industry becomes key. Internships, which are usually mandatory at the end of the academic period, now with unlimited access, should facilitate young communication talent to connect with industry professionals through guest lectures or mentoring programs, whether facilitated by universities or through networking opportunities. This is to ensure academic programs remain relevant to industry needs.

Furthermore, an interdisciplinary approach that combines communication skills with practical fields such as marketing, digital media, politics, and international relations, up to litigation, can strengthen the specialization of communication professionals when entering the professional industry. In fact, a communication professional who has a specialization in the aforementioned fields has a higher market value.

Enriching Experience

So, how can the Communication Studies Program equip students with the practical skills needed in the workforce? Case studies from recent industry experiences can be an effective solution. Case studies can be an effective learning tool in linking theory and real-world practice. This step can help students understand how communication theory is applied in real-world situations. In addition, case studies are also useful for developing students’ understanding of market and non-market aspects. Students can learn several key aspects of the communication world, such as marketing communication, political communication, and intercultural communication.

The next benefit is that case studies can improve analytical skills. Students can learn to analyze information and situations well to make the right decisions. Case studies can also sharpen students’ problem-based decision-making skills, so they can learn to solve communication problems effectively. This approach is increasingly used by the industry to assess communication talent that is ready for work.

The competency gap between theory and practice for communication graduates is a multifaceted challenge that requires a collaborative approach from academics, industry professionals, and the students themselves. Through more strategic collaboration, communication graduates can certainly be better prepared to face the increasingly competitive job market.

In the end, anyone can indeed take a role in the communication industry. However, not everyone has the basic foundation, understands the complexities, possesses the skills to navigate its development, and masters specialization in more specific aspects of communication. This is where a Communication Studies graduate has an advantage over other graduates with a theoretical understanding and practical experience relevant to industry needs.

Made Intan Iswari Satria
Senior Consultant, Kiroyan Partners

This article has been published in PR Indonesia magazine 108th edition, issued on May-June 2024, page 84-85.

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