Saturday, August 1, 2009

Internships as the new elitism

A story coming through from The Guardian in Britain is the growing use of unpaid internships in business and government to employ university graduates at minimal cost. With up to one million young people estimated to be unemployed this year, this is a source of cheap labour, but its growing use for that purpose has raised allegations of exploitation and avoiding minimum wage obligations.

Another consequence of the high use of unpaid internships in some industries is that it reinforces patterns of elite employment that were raised in the Milburn Review into inequality in Britain. For those from lower-class backgrounds, the option of months or years of unpaiod work is less open, as they cannot rely upon parental support. This is particularly likely in the media and creative industries, where the notion of short-term contract work is widespread and people are more willing to forego short-term income.
Alex Donovan, 22, has been trying to break into the film world since graduating from Nottingham University last year with a degree in American studies.

After numerous unpaid stints as a runner, assistant director, editor, camera assistant, scriptwriter, website tester and general office skivvy, he is signing on and working unpaid in an east London theatre.

"It's immensely frustrating and I've got to the point now where I can't do internships," he said. "I've been on the dole for six months and I can't get bar work and a lot of high street recruitment agencies won't take me on as I don't have recognisable skills. They won't even take my CV. I knew film was notoriously difficult to get into, but I'd hoped to be in a paid job after six months."

Despite the setbacks, Donovan is determined to persevere. "It would be very easy to get depressed and there are nights when I think, 'Oh my God, why am I doing this?' but I will definitely keep pushing away to get into film; I would hate to end up doing something I didn't want to do."

Research by the National Council for Work Experience suggests that Donovan is not alone, and that his predicament will be shared by thousands more graduates this year.

A poll of 1,400 recent graduates and students who were seeking work found that 66% had felt obliged to work for free and 67% said they felt "exploited" or "undervalued" while doing work experience. The research, seen by the Guardian, reveals that half had worked unpaid for four weeks or more.

The government's own guidelines suggest that in the vast majority of cases unpaid placements should be for no more than two weeks.

More here.


Anonymous said...


This article raises an important issue about Creative Industries programs: How do they equip graduates with the budgeting, contract negotiation and marketing skills to differentiate themselves and to survive in the marketplace? What responsibility does a program have to provide industry-ready graduates, in an industry which may have some questionable practices?

In Donovan's case perhaps he had an unrealistic expectation of employment after 6 months. An industry master class or a career services outplacement may have given him a more realistic view.

Australia has a similar challenge. For instance, in bull market conditions multimedia is viewed as a glamorous industry. For firms, this creates a talent pool of graduates and a buffer to control variable costs. Industry norms are short-term or project-based contracts, along with additional costs such as private indemnity insurance. These asymmetries mean that firms are in a stronger negotiation position to bargain with graduates. It also creates a secondary market in industry-required certification (Microsoft, SQL, Prince2) which the firms use to limit the adverse selection of graduates, and which benefits the accredited training providers.

Alex Burns

Terry Flew said...

True. I don't think the argument is against internships per se, but the use of them as substitutes for paid jobs. And The Guardian article makes clear that this is not just happening in the most market-exposed industries. For example, a lot of MPs are using the schemes in ways that look like alternatives to actually paying someone.

Donovan may have been naive about the film industry, but is also raises the interesting point that media jobs often become more middle class and less culturally diverse than other sectors as a result.

Ashley said...

Nowadays it's hard to find a job because of the recession. There are many got unemployed and seeking job now. As a worker, I am also a blood donor to help on my daily needs. I think this is a very big help for the students who are seeking for a part time job now or got unpaid internship and especially it is summer time which are some of us need extra income. I'm donating for 2 years now and it really helps because every donation I make up to $50/hour for blood donation. As we all know, Blood bank shortages kill tons of people all the time and it is the time to spread the word about blood donation and give blood, you will never know when YOU might need blood. This really helpful even it is just a part time job, the bottom line of this is to saved lives.

If you are thinking to be a blood donor and looking for specific blood banks and a directory of blood donation centers you can check it out here at bloodbanker dot com/banks.

Fabian said...


Thanks for sharing useful information on internships.

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