7 month itch

I have been running this website with my trusted co-founder since March, so for about 7 months. We originally set it up to do research not to bolster strong opinions- we didn’t have any opinions in March, we just wanted to find out how many interns there were, what they did, whether they enjoyed it and whether internships lead to jobs.  So far we can’t really suggest any watertight conclusions but here are some I thought of anyway. They apply to unpaid positions.

Internships come in all shapes and sizes: some are eminently reasonable and turn out to be really useful experiences for the interns, some are just criminal, exploitative and wrong.

People often do internships to find out what they want to do, to test the water- there is certainly a demand for commitment free work-experience-taster-sessions and I wouldn’t want to discourage employers from providing experiences like this. Of course the length of a taster session is certainly equal to or significantly shorter than 3 months and must be conducted in relatively flexible terms, i.e., the intern can work part time.

All internships that exceed 6 months become jobs. We’ve had people write in and describe 42-hour, 6 month plus, internships where the intern in question is certainly doing a job. This is bad for the penniless intern and bad for the working world in general- who wants all the jobs to be taken by free labour? Who wants a bunch of embittered graduate interns running around riddled with debt and bubbling over with noxious fury?

The consequences of cracking down on internships are many and varied.  Inspired by reports of organizations cutting down their unpaid internships (unconfirmed) for fear of negative press, and by meetings with a number of interns and careers advisors as set up by Helen Undy, Phil Willis MP’s researcher, I have thought of some questions to ask myself, perhaps you can help with the answers:

-       Will enforcing the payment of interns (3 months or longer) reduce the number of these learning experiences available?  So, for example, is it better to have 10 1-month unpaid placements or 2 3-month paid placements? Is it better to have one paid researcher/office assistant or one worker and two interns in an MP’s office?

-       Can newspapers survive without long-term rolling work experiencers? Do they deserve to if they can’t? Are they providing a sort of cheap journalism degree?

-       Is payment enough to ensure that a wider cross-section of society participates in, say, parliamentary internships? Should we look at advertising, recruitment and options open to school children in more detail?

-       Can anything really get better when the economy is still relatively stagnant?

I am absolutely for paying interns the NMW when they are working but I think we do need to explore the possible consequences in more detail.

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