No Prime Minister

Dear Gordon Brown,

I’m getting increasingly furious about the ill-informed and misguided belief in internships as a holy grail of employment prospects. While internships may be a necessary requirement for permanent employment, they do not guarantee it. In my experience, internships are a mere tool of exploitation that benefit only one party – the employer. Moreover, not only do internships not necessarily lead to permanent employment, they are also far from easy to get. I have had enough of people of my parents’ generation advising young people to simply do an internship to increase their job prospects. In today’s fierce graduate job market, an internship is almost as valuable as a paid job and my personal experience has been that many internships have around 300 applicants per post.

I am a graduate who has found myself trapped in and consistently let down by the world of internships. Since graduating I have done everything in my power to get a career in the third sector. But despite my first class degree, my award for academic excellence, my Msc from a top university (all down to incredibly hard work) and my three internships in the third sector I still find myself two and a half years down the line working in a shop for not much more than minimum wage. Moreover, I’m finding myself forced to borrow money from my retired parents to pay back my £35K student loan while spending all my time off applying for jobs and yet more internships, only to be informed that I still don’t have enough work experience. I am constantly told by organisations using interns that either a large proportion of their paid staff are former interns or that all their interns have gone on to amazing paid jobs in the sector. However, I find it very unlikely that I am an exceptional case and I suspect that this represents a wider systemic problem.

It is beyond me how the government, with the full support of not only the public, private and third sector but also the media, can actively encourage the current trend of an increase in internships for young people. Through some bizarre loophole in the employment law, a worker who is paid below the minimum wage would be advised to make an appointment with the Citizens Advice Bureau whereas a graduate doing an entirely unpaid internship is supposed to feel privileged. Of course all internships are “voluntary”, which seems to imply that I have absolutely no right to complain about my situation. I have even been told by someone who works for a voluntary sector organisation that interns cannot be forced to do anything they would not want to do, and as an intern one has the right to say “no” - that sounds like an incredibly generous and fair system. As an intern, though, there is only the minor issue of needing a reference, meaning that one is unlikely to say “no” to mundane tasks such as stuffing envelopes or doing photocopying. Of course I have gained some valuable experience and knowledge throughout my internships but I feel that, all too often, my time was used in a way that made me feel exploited. Furthermore, my positive experiences could have been achieved in a paid capacity. After all, there was a time when one could learn on the job whereas nowadays employers seem to demand experience that can only be achieved through unpaid internships.

When is the truth about internships going to be made public? The reality of internships is that it is a system whereby not only “poor” charities but also multinational companies can get away with exploiting graduates with a bleak future and get free labour through loose promises of future job prospects when the reality is that the graduate job market is saturated and even some of the best graduates will remain unemployed, whether they have done an internship or not.

Yours Sincerely,

Interned

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