Compulsory payment will damage creative internships

Summer is prime internship time. We spent the end of last term waxing lyrical about all our brilliant summer projects, internships and holidays. But how many of them are paid is completely different question. In fact, the students I know to be getting paid this summer I can count on one hand

Summer is prime internship time. We spent the end of last term waxing lyrical about all our brilliant summer projects, internships and holidays. And an informal poll from my memory would state that the majority of students (especially students in their second year) embark on some sort internship. But how many of them are paid is completely different question. In fact, the students I know to be getting paid this summer I can count on one hand.

This is perhaps surprising considering the Association of Graduate Recruiters state that 95.8 per cent of their members pay their interns. I am very pleased that the majority of the 800 members of AGR do pay rather than exploit, but as it is a graduate company, undergraduate statistics go completely unrecognised. The danger is for us to look at AGR’s results and believe the payment for interns debate is over, this is far from true, especially for summer internships.

During my own hunt for an internship I came across a journalistic position in London that required me to work with them for three months, for absolutely nothing. Apart from the 2.50 they would offer for my bus fare everyday. As much as I wanted to take this internship, enthusiasm was not going to pay my rent or pay for the rest of my travel costs (after the 2.50 was lost on a two minute tube ride). Unfortunately it was not within my means to move south and give up my current job to work for free. This is the case with many students wanting to gain invaluable work experience but are unable to afford it; leaving their richer counterparts with all the opportunities to build themselves a career.

And yet the answer is not as simple as Nick Clegg standing up and saying “you must pay you interns”, especially in the arts and the media. The above magazine was a small independent company and, as much as I resented them for it, they do not have the means to pay their interns. They rely on fresh new talent coming to them for free and we rely on them to teach us the trade, for free. If said magazine suddenly had to pay all their interns then however many places would be chopped down to one place. This one place would then become nearly impossible to obtain.

The creative industry is one that relies heavily on internships and work experience to train future employees. It is unheard of to walk out of University and into the media without work experience. That work experience is already notoriously difficult to obtain, it is massively oversubscribed and any move to limit that even more would be disastrous to students. In saying that, this catch 22 situation needs to be addressed in some form; I need work experience to get a job but I can’t even get to the work in the first place without money.

If the government are so insistent on seeing interns paid then they are going to have to provide some sort of pathway for smaller companies to support interns without cutting down on their intake. If payment is simply enforced across the board it will either limit internships to an impossible size or lengthen our career paths as we have to take on even more unpaid work experience to prove our internship worth.

One comment

  1. This article is similar to Thom Byrne’s over at Vision that minimum wage should be scrapped as it would allow more jobs to be created:
    http://www.yorkvision.co.uk/comment/was-phillip-davies-wrong-to-suggest-the-disabled-should-work-for-less/

    My response to him contains a point similar to your final paragraph: companies that are less well-off should be able to pay less (or in the case of internships perhaps nothing at all), but richer ones should pay something.

    I’m not convinced though that “any move to limit that even more would be disastrous to students”. It might be disastrous if you think you have divine right to work for the media. Presumably what would happen is that far fewer students would aim to get involved in the media in the first place. Perhaps they would then seek out different careers in areas that are not “massively oversubscribed” but that would greatly benefit society if they were more competitive.

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