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2.8.09

Interns - what's the problem?

First this weekend the Guardian did a big piece about how employers are exploiting graduate internships. In it Polly Curtis, Guardian Education Editor, highlighted how companies are exploiting graduates by offering the work for free with little prospect of a job at the end.
Moreover, this seems to be the mind set for British employers – whether they are in the public or private sector. The assumption is that there are so many graduates in the marketplace why would an employer offer to pay for their services when so many are willing to do it for free.
But “free” comes at a price for the graduates – especially if mummy and daddy can afford to support your career ambitions in the media, PR, marketing. Please note, these are the most oversubscribed professions and as a result they are the most exploited.
This point was underscored by Tyler Brule in his Fast Lane column in the FT (Inert interns need not apply) where he decried the high expectations of trustafarian wannabes who wanted to work on photoshoots but wouldn’t demean themselves with photocopying.
Between both articles the truth is that the UK doesn’t really get internships (an American word if we are honest).
At GREEN we do a lot of work experience placements, usually with high school sixth formers or undergraduates, for which we do not pay. We hope, and believe, we enrich these young people’s experience of what the workplace is like and generally we aim to give them genuine business projects to work on.
However, we are now doing our first internship (for the right candidate) for a 12-month stint in our business during which they will earn significantly more than the minimum wage and learn a hell of a lot about what it is like to work in a communications business.
Interestingly, this coincides with our work with Graduates Yorkshire which has just launched a programme of paid internships in Yorkshire whereby it is seeking to place up to 80 graduates with companies in the region in the next six month up to March 2010.
Polly, at The Guardian, is right that not enough is being done to legitimize and monetize intern’s input into the economy and Tyler is correct in that not enough is being done to match graduate expectations with the reality of the workplace.
However, initiatives like Graduates Yorkshire will close the gap. Watch this space.

4 comments:

Ian Delaney said...

Media internships make me anxious. As you point out, 'free' and underpaid work has to be paid for somehow. How about if mummy and daddy are also on the minimum wage, or worse? The pressure to *not* shoot for that career in media and settle for a steady job at Argos would be quite high.

We risk once again exacerbating class divides between media workers and the population in general. That's wrong on almost every level.

Rupe said...

I agree with Ian.

The necessity for people to develop their CVs through unpaid internships in some sectors means that only those with strong safety nets could ever consider those industries as options. This puts jobs out of the reach of large swathes of the population and prevents the possibility of real diversity within these workplaces. It is yet another instance where class divides are being reinforced rather than broken down. This isn't the hallmark of an elightened society.

Stephen Newton said...

As you're paying -- and more than minimum wage -- the internship you're offering isn't the kind people are complaining about. (Some would not think of it as internship, more of a junior exec role.)

When I was starting out, in the midst of the early 1990s recession, I did a few weeks unpaid work experience (as we called it then) with a couple of agencies. Some experiences were useful, some not.

I was carrying several grand in student debt and living on the dole. I didn't go to the bank of mum and dad once and I'm proud of that.

However, it's not a period I romanticise and I don't believe others should have to go through the same, as if it were some sort of initiation.

It seems that the media industry as a whole -- certainly not just PR -- has caught on to the idea that there's a pool of cheap labour out there (and this pre-dates the recession in many cases). More seriously it appears to have become more systematic in its exploitation of these inexperienced, but enthusiastic young people.

Ian Green said...

Stephen,

Thanks for that.

You say: "It seems that the media industry as a whole -- certainly not just PR -- has caught on to the idea that there's a pool of cheap labour out there (and this pre-dates the recession in many cases). More seriously it appears to have become more systematic in its exploitation of these inexperienced, but enthusiastic young people."

I think you're right. We are interviewing a lot of graduates at the moment and they all tell stories of working unpaid for some big orgnisations AND I mean BIG.

None of them are being paid for doing genuiely good work - I've seen the press releases and cuttings. The majority don't even get expenses never mind a wage.

In the US this is never the case - an internship is a paid-for posting. In the UK we just screw them. AND the worst abusers are the media - PR, newspapers, design, TV