Archive for August, 2009

I simply cannot find a placement that offers remuneration of any kind

Employers and MPs taking advantage as graduates struggle to find jobs:

The new elitism that is freezing out poorer graduates:

These articles sum up some of my frustrations with trying to find work at the moment. I simply cannot find a placement that offers remuneration of any kind, even travel expenses. This wasn’t so much a problem when I held placements alongside my 1st and 2nd year studies, which weren’t particularly involved as I lacked the software skills to do any real work back then. But I no longer have a student loan to depend on, and now I’ve graduated I feel my five years of college and university education merits something better than doing the work nobody else in the studio wants to do, for free. Given the current economic climate, I could barely travel and survive working for free where I live, never mind those who offered me unpaid work in London. Whenever I challenge an agency on their refusal to offer a wage, their stance is always ‘we’re doing you a favour’. How?  

I realise I’m inexperienced (though I do have a year or so of studio experience) and don’t claim to be the finished article, but after studying 5 years of diplomas and degree courses, I’ve at least shown that I’m willing. If you like my portfolio enough to have me working in your studio, pay me what my education and skills deserve. Really, is that too much to ask? 

Some of the agencies offering me unpaid placements count Coca Cola, Nissan, Manchester United, Sony and Nickelodeon amongst their clients. Some have over a hundred staff, and have numerous unpaid interns each week. Some are part of multinational corporations. Do they seriously expect anyone to believe they cannot afford to pay interns £5.73 for a few hours a week? They continue to exploit graduates, because everyone else is doing it and getting away with it. If a company doesn’t pay tax at the end of the financial year, Inland Revenue will quickly be on their case. Who is monitoring design companies to ensure they pay workers minimum wage? Nicky Campbell, we need you sir… 

Banks are offering training schemes of £16k or above for graduates who have not necessarily studied an associated subject, yet I’m expected to work for nothing in an industry I’ve trained 5 years to get into. It just doesn’t seem right. After almost 6 months of writing, emailing and calling agencies and getting the same response, I’m now on the brink of taking work in another industry. I don’t want to close the door on design, but if our own industry doesn’t value its graduates enough to pay them minimum wage, then it doesn’t leave me with much choice. I went to university to escape the low paid call centre, data entry and bar jobs I’d spent years doing. Now design agencies want me to work for less than that? Are you kidding? 

Talent is not the issue here, since studios seem to like my work enough to invite me in; but I simply cannot compete against those with families able to support them on stints to London working for free. £240 per month Jobseekers Allowance doesn’t go very far where I live, so travelling to another city is completely out of the question. The way I see things, unpaid placements are tantamount to discrimination against all those who want experience, but do not have the financial resources to enter the industry as an unpaid trainee. 

I’ll end with some great advice someone gave me recently: If you’re offered unpaid work that should be paid, perhaps you should consider reporting the company to the Low Pay Commission at

“Good luck”

When I graduated, my Dad (who’s a civil engineer) asked me, “So what are you going to do about getting a job then?”. I replied calmly that I’d probably have to move to London and spend 6 months or so working for various companies for free to get enough ‘industry experience’ to bolster my CV and make contacts to eventually (hopefully) get a job. I’ve since had to explain this to several other people who work for different industries, and each time I’ve done so I’ve been met variously with disbelief, outrage, pity and no small amount of people wishing me a sarcastic ‘good luck’.

That said, I managed to get a placement outside of London and after working there for a month (luckily) they took me on. So I guess the system kinda works.

Just try explaining that to my Dad.

This comment originally appeared on the Creative Review website.

Wanted: free dogsbodies

Unpaid internships not only negate widening-access efforts, they devalue jobs and graduates, says Amy Binns in the Times Higher Education Supplement

I recently took a phone call from the editor of a “magazine” - one of those advertisement-laden publications that litter your hallway. He was hoping my journalism students would write for him: “We don’t have an editorial staff as such, we use freelancers, but the same old voices get a bit tired,” he said. “We can’t actually pay, but if they do restaurant reviews they get a free meal and a glass of wine.”

Or in plain English: “Please send me your naive, hopeful students to fill my pages for free. By the time the public equates journalism with advertising, I’ll have made my stash.”

There is alarming evidence that some firms are replacing graduate recruitment schemes with internships - in other words, the same people doing the same jobs but for no money. Students fill in forms, submit portfolios and go for interviews (travel expenses not reimbursed), all for the privilege of six months or even a year of high-pressure, unpaid dogsbodying, where every day is a test of commitment.

Although some well-organised internship programmes are worth the trouble (J.P. Morgan’s has a 60 per cent conversion rate to employment), many are exploitative.

Amy Binns is a lecturer in media, University of Huddersfield.

“Now what shall I do? Where’s my desk?”

My entirely voluntary internship was at an Edinburgh based magazine. They use interns to permanently fill the role of editorial assistant. Though I got to do a lot (not filing!), I was badly looked after. The woman I’d organised the placement with ignored me on the first day and just gave me piles to hole punch or similar, without any introductory chat. I brought them to her and said: “now what shall I do? Where’s my desk?”

She indicated one and said off you go. But doing what?

Then at last the editor came back from his meeting and showed me what to do and told me about the magazine.

But he omitted a lot, and everyone got very stressed - so I felt I couldn’t ask. I was meant to source pictures but I wasn’t shown properly what to do, so I couldn’t find them.

A colleague was shocked that I hadn’t been told, though he said it wasn’t part of his contract to show me!

I was also given a project but I’m not sure this was ever looked at. I kept saying how I was interested in using my Quark desk top publishing training, but got to do little of that and was expected to source pictures and interview people about trainers!

On my last day, most staff left without saying goodbye, let alone thank you. My hours were 9-5.30, but I was still finishing stuff I’d been given at 7 - and then they asked me to do something else! By which time, the office was deserted for the weekend by all but the editors. I said I needed to go, feeling that they’d already had quite enough from me.

I had to email and ask to be sent the magazine I’d contributed to, and only then did I get a thank you… but no further opportunities came of this piece of slave labour, that I’d worked hard to secure!

Is a Degree worth £20,000?

The Guardian writes:

“Up to 30,000 applicants could be turned away from universities this summer following a surge from mature students attempting to escape the recession.”

But given that a degree is now often not enough to get entry level graduate positions, is it really worth forking out £20,000 to pay your way through a university education?

Will a succession of internships be more beneficial? Sadly for those unable to find a university this summer, most internships only advertise for recent-graduates. Catch 22. Only those already indebted to the tune of thousands are allowed to undertake unpaid work for months and months.

Hammond Update 2

The Spectator mentions the email under the title “Visions of Life Under A Tory Government”… despite the fact Labour and Lib Dems are equally culpable.

Then Nick Cohen in the Observer calls us “admirably bolshie”. Made my day. He goes on to write:

“Hammond’s miserliness ought to shock because graduates’ chances of finding work too often depend on signing up for one, two – maybe more – internships. As for their less well-qualified contemporaries, the number of young people in England not in education, employment or training rose to 935,000 this month. It is already higher than in the recession of the early 1990s and within months will top the numbers reached in the early 1980s.”

Private Eye

Private Eye magazine have mentioned our Hammond story!

Radio 4 feature on internships

Last Tuesday we were featured on a PM discussion about internships on BBC Radio 4.

The item is available on iplayer for a couple more days. It begins 20 minutes in.

The PM listeners feedback programme IPM also featured internships. Listen to this discussion here.

Leaked Email shows Tory MP openly flouting National Minimum Wage Laws

Philip Hammond MP: [it’s] an abuse of tax-payers funding to pay for something that is available for nothing

Philip Hammond, Tory MP for Runnymede and Weybridge, responded to concerns made by a member of the public that he was not complying with National Minimum Wage Laws in his recruitment of unpaid interns by saying: 

“I would regard it as an abuse of taxpayer funding to pay for something that is available for nothing and which other Members are obtaining for nothing. I therefore have no intention of changing my present arrangements.”

A damning response to an issue of serious concern. With thousands upon thousands of young people unemployed why don’t our public servants comply with the rules they themselves made law. Although Mr Hammond did not vote to introduce the National Minimum Wage he is compelled to obey it. It is not a case of one rule for MPs, another for the rest of society. The term ‘intern’ does not exempt someone from National Minimum Wage.

The position advertised described primary duties as “research and correspondence, constituency casework and general office administration” and lasted for 6 months.

National Minimum Wage Law states that if you work set hours, doing set tasks that other members of staff rely on and expect you to do then you should be paid basic minimum wage. Except if you are a full time student. As the role advertises for a “recent graduate” then this exception need not apply.

When asked, Mr Hammond and his office were not prepared to check the regulations governing National Minimum Wage Laws via the Minimum Wage Helpline (for any MPs reading… 0845 6000 678).

Some MPs, when questioned on this issue, talk of the important contribution interns make to their office and the great learning experiences they get in Westminster. Mr Hammond mentions neither of these things. He wants a free office administrator to cut costs. “Something for nothing” to paraphrase his terse email. This attitude is systematic of a closed and elitist mentality within Westminster. Concern for young people or even an appreciation of the work they do (18,000 hours of unpaid work in Westminster each week by parliamentary interns) doesn’t even come into it.

Overheard in the office today:

We share an office with another organisation. Just now a bald louche man sidled up and asked my boss in a husky voice: “Want a couple of interns?” Just like a seasoned drug-pusher stood on a street corner.

He went on:

“We are inundated with applications”

“It’s a consumer market”

“We had 2, then 5”

“They did all the work…haha… no really”

“Its not slave labour… we pay them a bit for lunch and their travel”

These are genuine quotes. I scribbled them down as he was speaking. “No thank you” was the reply from my boss.

“Ok, but if you ever want some you know where to find me”.

My blood boiled. Young people desperate for a bit of experience traded around an office like goods that have fallen off the back of a lorry.

I wonder how often this conversation is repeated around the country.

Valuable but difficult: living on the biscuit collection

I have found interning to be an extremely valuable, but difficult experience for someone of my background. I live near Reading, at home with my mother who is a disabled single parent living in social housing and my younger sister who is in her first year at university. I am currently the only person in my household who is able to earn properly. I am one of the unfortunate few whose parents are not in a position to support them while they intern. In fact, I have to help my mother pay her rent and buy food because she can’t afford it, and help out my sister with money for books and equipment. The concept of interning is alien to my family- they can’t understand why, with five A’s at A-level and a strong degree from a top university, I have to work for free. It is increasingly frustrating and demoralising for me to keep justifying it to them when we lack basic necessary household items such as a washing machine and a cooker.  

Continue reading ‘Valuable but difficult: living on the biscuit collection’

Guardian article: The eternal Intern? No Thanks

Rachel Bowen has written an article for the Guardian on her internship experiences.

As my European experience draws to an end and I reflect on my year as an intern, I can only feel angry that despite gaining valuable experience, I appear to be as unemployable as when I graduated last summer. I am not doubting the value of internships – I know I have learned useful skills and more about my own capabilities in the past year than I did in 16 years of education, and I am immensely grateful to all the people who have given me a chance to prove myself and provided an insight into different careers. What I am concerned about is that internships are simply seen as another hoop for already debt-ridden graduates to jump through and that, although they may lead to higher future returns later in a career, from where I stand at the moment they seem to stall rather than launch that career.

But enough is enough; I have made a promise to myself that my days as an intern are over. I am no longer prepared, and I cannot afford, to let my skills be exploited for free. I am ready for a real challenge, real responsibility and perhaps most important, a real salary …

I’d be interested to know if her frustration is shared by other interns- let us know!

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