At a time when there is a lack of graduate jobs, students are becoming increasingly competitive in the job market. University placements have dramatically risen in the UK since the early 1990s and a result, the competition for graduate level jobs is fiercer than ever. To make matters worse, twice as many graduates are achieving first class or 2:1 degrees now than they were ten years ago.
It has always been common practice to attempt to gain experience in order to secure a job and internships have traditionally been an asset for all students. However, as unemployment rises and as we head for a bleak double-dip recession, employers have gained a far more powerful position over their employees.
Students are therefore turning to internships out of the hope that they may gain the skills and experience to become a suitable candidate for their ideal graduate job. Now as employers hold all the cards, students are being forced to compete against each other in order to receive unpaid work, with organisations such as the Guardian paying as little as £10 a day to its interns, covering just food and travel.
These internships are based predominantly in large cities such as London. The problem is, how does one afford the living costs when one does not live within the area and is not paid an adequate amount for accommodation?
Many internship placements last between 3-6 months and often people come out without work. Marcus Mason, from the New Deal of the Mind – an organisation working to open up jobs in the cultural sector- argues “There’s an intern limbo stage that some people go into and almost never come out of. Companies build the free labour into their business plan.”
The gap between rich and poor becomes more apparent with gap year programs such as ‘The Leap’, which offers internships that charge an excessive fee of £1877 for 6 weeks interning rising to £2755 for 10 weeks. Having applied to this program myself, which included speaking to a well-spoken salesman, it was explained to me that the journalism internship that I sought did not directly relate to journalism and mainly focused on volunteering. It could be concluded that “The Leap” is merely taking advantage of those that are willing to pay for an internship and clearly favours candidates from a more affluent background.
A Liberal Democrat MP Tim Farron stated, “Currently most MPs do not pay their interns and this is something that should change – otherwise only those from wealthy backgrounds can afford to benefit from internships.”
It has become apparent that students should investigate internships carefully as there have been recent fraud scandals. Julie Ellis wrote in the telegraph last Friday about her daughter who applied for an internship abroad and after paying a £450 deposit via Visa, the company ceased to exist. Reputable companies Studentjob.co.uk and Interweb.com advertised these internships and later apologised for the trouble that was caused. To date, 23 people have come forward to claim that they were also victims of fraud by this scheme.
The USA has a different culture on internships with companies being named and shamed as unpaid internships are legal only if they meet stringent labour criteria. Therefore most companies do not want to take the risk falling foul of the labour laws and pay interns a fair wage. The labour criteria for an internship must provide adequate training and must benefit interns, not solely employers.
It seems however that despite constant newspaper articles (many from newspapers that do not pay interns themselves) of how unpaid internships in the UK are wrong, a recent blog article from an intern argues differently, “Companies simply can’t afford to pay to train someone in the current economic climate. Unfortunately the only outcome it will bring is an end to internships.” She claims although internships favour more affluent candidates, she was able to sustain a part time job in order to complete this internship.
Therefore it is fair to argue that internships in the UK have an inherit bias towards the rich, perhaps in order to rectify this we should be following America’s protocol of a greater stringent labour criteria as this will improve standards and prevent poorly run internships from existing.
Writer: Rob Bailey
Editor: Matteo Bergamini
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