Archive for the 'Debate' Category



Education Secretary champions Internships – but who can afford them?

Via our friends at the Arts Group, David Lammy thinks internships are the way to solve graduate unemployment:

In response to growing concerns over graduate employment (or lack thereof) David Lammy championed Internships and volunteering as access routes into jobs:

“Of course students may be concerned, which is why we are working hard to show that real opportunities are available to them including work, further study, volunteering and Internships. Internships are great way for graduates to kick start their careers by gaining the valuable skills and work experience at a time when they face a more competitive job market.”

Yes David, ‘a great way’ for those who can afford to be exploited by organizations violating the National Minimum Wage. Thanks a bunch. Welcome to the only government who simultaneously claims to champion social mobility whilst also using unpaid work as a strategy for streaming graduates for recruitment.

Can’t really argue with that… 


Coming back to haunt a newspaper near you

Spotted in the Telegraph by an eagle-eyed Dina Rickman (Dina – if you read this please write to us with your own intern experiences!) is a horrible article by journalist Celia Walden. She describes a week of torture dished out to her ‘whipping boy’ work experience-r… retribution, it seems, for her own work placements.

Once Ed had finished alphabetising a decade’s worth of business cards for me, booked reservations at the Ivy (posing as my PA) and spent an afternoon scouring London for a Tintin desk diary (A5, Ed, not A4 – back out you go, my boy), a co-worker took him home to clean out her bins.

I’m tempted to write this off as payback for the years of humiliation I endured at the hands of men during my salad days, but I suspect it’s just more fun abusing a boy – something about that Estella/Pip dynamic, perhaps.

Still, my memories of work placements aren’t exactly edifying. There was that stint on a TV listings magazine, where the boys would routinely order me to stand up on a chair and tweak the aerial. “A bit more to the left,” they’d cry out. “Nope – to the right. Now back to the left.” This would go on for some time, until one day the editor walked in on a particularly prolonged session, ordered me down from the chair and delivered a hushed rebuke – from which the only words I could make out were “Harassment Act”.

Does Ed deserve this? Is it all part of the learning curve? Or does Celia deserve a slap in the face?

Slave Labour

We have come across a great Channel 4 News clip from a couple of years ago. It’s about a young film maker called Danny Dewsbury who was exploited by the Labour Party. He spent a week travelling around the country filming cabinet ministers but wasn’t paid a penny. He wasn’t learning or shadowing – and what makes it more ironic is how proud the ministers he filmed were of the Minimum Wage.

Tessa Jowell, in one interview with him, even has a pop at “scams” whereby young people are used as “cheap labour”.

Nick Clegg announces youth jobs pledge

One of his pledges concerns internships:


We will support young people while they get valuable work experience by paying anyone undertaking an internship a ‘training allowance’ of £55 a week (£5 more than JSA). This will help employers who want to offer young people work experience but cannot afford to pay them. We envisage that young people will do this for up to 3 months and receipt of the allowance will be dependent on attendance.

Is this the answer? Or another politician using ‘internships’ as a vote-winner without really knowing anything about them. I know many interns who already get £55 a week in expenses. What they really want is National Minimum Wage.

Government to create National Internship Database

Responding to middle class fears that their children are being shut out from many professions (Law, Finance, Accountancy, the Media etc), the government has announced the creation of a National Internship Database (NID) – a one-stop-shop for every unemployed graduate’s needs.

Quite where this differs from previous announcements about a national internship scheme is anyone’s guess, and I am sure none of the work placements proposed have taken into account the problems we have mentioned on this site.

  • How does creating a national database of internships solve the problem that most will be located in London and therefore only open to those who live there already or can afford to live there for months without pay?
  • Does this policy address the fact that most internships break current employment laws in that they don’t pay NMW?
  • If NMW isn’t paid… how are prospective interns going to afford these placements? Financed by a bankrupt state? Unlikely. I suspect they will follow the Milburn suggestion of making loans available for graduates. But with no guarantee of a job at the end of it, and not even an assurance of proper training, would this be £2000 well spent?

“Internship” – formally a buzzword for employers to justify cutting an entry-level position, now the inspiration for a policy dreamt up by clueless politicians. But that’s just my opinion.

Are internships the answer to our problems?

Work experience or work exploitation?

A common theme in the experiences featured on this website is the tension between offering opportunities to young people and exploiting them.

The University of Westminster has waded into this debate, by publishing a survey showing the vast majority of university students in London feel exploited during their work experience placements.  

The headline figures are striking.

  • 71% of students said they felt unfulfilled by their work experience placements. Common tasks cited were filing, scanning, photocopying, answering telephones, and making tea.
  • 60% of those interviewed said that their work experience was not beneficial in any way. 
  • 90% of those surveyed had worked for free, and of those, 77% were not compensated for their expenses.

Hardly indicative of a system that equips young people with the experience needed to get jobs in a recession.  One student commented, “I have done several placements, all have been unpaid. Of these placements, two promised to reimburse my expenses- one took 2 months to fulfil this and the other never returned my calls after promising £5 per day for my full-time placement.”

Despite the fact that this was probably in clear breach of the NMW regulations, tardiness in paying meager expenses is terrible. Even if you work for free, you deserve to be treated with respect.

A London Bias?

One of the most frequent criticisms of internships is their location. If you want internships in journalism, the media, politics and the third-sector, you would be hard pushed to find them outside of London.

This graph, from the illuminating Milburn report, highlights some of those sectors not often considered.

Does the fact that 90% of law internships are found in London reveal a geographical bias? Or that law firms in Leeds, for example, have yet to develop an internship culture?

The Banking and Finance stats are interesting – we are actively looking for finance interns to tell us what they get up to! I would have assumed that the majority of those internships would be found in the City. IT and Engineering – well – they offer some comfort to those not living in our capital.

We will soon be starting a comprehensive survey for all our readers to take. Location will be one factor we are looking at. Watch this space.

The Intern at the Christmas Party

When you’re an unpaid intern, perks of the job are few and far between. A wage is pretty much the only perk you have in mind. 

But when my three-month internship at a glossy lifestyle magazine recently ended without a job offer (merry bloody Christmas), I decided my dignity had been sufficiently battered and consequently I had nothing more to lose by accepting an invitation to the company’s Christmas party. 

Whether my boss invited me out of guilt (sorry we made you work full time in a job we could have paid someone much less gullible than you to do), or because they didn’t think I’d accept it (you’re just one of a thousand futile faces we’ll see come and go here), I’ll never know. The important thing was that the party would be at a swish London nightclub with copious amounts of free, that’s right free, alcohol. So even though they couldn’t/wouldn’t employ me, they at least had the common courtesy to get me smashed enough to forget the last three months of slave labour.

Needless to say, the office Christmas party is usually a scandalous affair where bladdered fifty year old managers try to snog the secretary, some “joker” finally discovers what his genitalia looks like photocopied twenty times, and sometimes where (god-forbid) people try to network. 

what a joker

Not me. I was quite content drinking my hopes of a media career away into a dark puddle of regret, disappointment and ultimately, vomit. There I was, not an official employee nor a complete civilian, but that shadowy intermediary figure, the intern; a person everyone secretly envies for your freedom, but disregards because of inexperience.

Continue reading ‘The Intern at the Christmas Party’

Where do you draw the line?

Almost all MPs hire interns. Hundreds, probably thousands, go through Parliament each year. This is a fact we have highlighted on these pages many times over the past year.

We have heard from interns feeling exploited and abused and those who had great experiences and managed to progress from being an intern to a researcher or a caseworker.

We don’t often highlight particular adverts here… but occasionally… just occasionally… something stands out as beyond the pale.

Let me introduce you to David Lidington MP. He is looking for an intern.

Continue reading ‘Where do you draw the line?’

Expenses-only engagements are illegal, say Employment Tribunals

The Employment Tribunals, sitting in Reading, have ruled that workers engaged on an expenses-only basis are entitled to payment at least in line with the national minimum wage, in addition to payment for the holiday they accrue.

The decision arises from a case brought by Nicola Vetta, a former art department assistant, against London Dreams Motion Pictures Ltd.

Read more here:

It almost brought me to tears

I would like to start by saying that I bare no ill will towards the political think tank I worked for or any of its staff, they were all doing the best they could in difficult funding circumstances and I do believe they had a genuine concern for their interns’ wellbeing. However, there needs to be a debate over internship practice because it has a big impact on working practices in the UK’s professional sector.

When I applied for the internship I already had my reservations; it was unpaid work with limited travelling expenses (I just managed to creep in under their limit), no lunch expenses and with full-time working hours. In many ways I was lucky, my parents were both able and willing to subsidise me and I lived within commuting distance of London (although, as I was to discover, train networks meant this journey would take more than four hours out of my day – my fault, but the London-centric nature of this sector is a real concern).

As it was to turn out my internship was no tea-making and photo-copying job, I had in effect been hired to replace a full-time research assistant who had left the month before due to a loss of research funding. To make matters worse my supervisor, who as the organisation’s director, was frequently unavailable and disappeared off for a significant chunk of my internship leaving me essentially to my own devices. Without effective supervision the quantity of work the task entailed shot up, so on top of the four hour commute and eight hour working day I was working for a few hours when I got home as well just to get my projects done. It was a learning curve and I probably came out stronger in the end but for months all the stress and exhaustion really made an impact on my mental – and physical – health.

Continue reading ‘It almost brought me to tears’

Quit your bellyaching

 Like many of our generation, I have taken the route of an internship with a Member of Parliament. There are some interesting responsibilities, press releases, case work etc. Then there are the usual pitfalls; the lack of direction in the office mainly. One of the key problems for interns is that those directly responsible for them often forget that the principle reason for you being there is to increase your skills. Often the lines are blurred between Bob, the unpaid intern who is here for the benefit of his career, learning essential skills for public affairs, and Bob, the office lackey who is here (almost literally) to sweep up after us. To a negligent supervisor, recently graduated university students often do seem to be there to do unpaid grunt work. When you’re on the receiving end of it, it is practically sickening.

 It can leave you with a feeling of intense resentment towards the world of public affairs and media, which thrives on this practise and often ostracises outsiders.

 Whilst undertaking this internship I have been reading The Triumph of the Political Class by Peter Oborne. I don’t think I could have picked a worse book to cement these feelings of bitterness.

 ”As they professionalized and grew more homogenous the Political and Media Classes began to restrict membership to the middle classes, and increasingly to each other’s sons and daughters. This was in large part because of the special pay structure of the Media/Political Class. Though stars in both arenas were capable of making very large sums of money indeed, new graduates are impoverished. A young researcher reporting to an MP, or a television producer starting out, are both extremely poorly paid. They are, however, expected to work in Central London, which is prohibitively expensive and only possible with subsidy from well heeled parents”

 The whole of the public affairs and media domain is made possible by backhanders, press leaks, favourable stories and a slimy mutability between actors serving themselves and their friends. Even my university’s careers page recommends the practise of ‘networking’ in order to progress in this arena. The story goes that Peter Mandelson got his big break in the world of politics by offering a cup of tea to a senior Labour figure who missed his train. Upon the Minister seeing Mandelsons’ poster of him on his bedroom wall, the young prince of darkness’s fate was sealed. Am I expected to hang around London with a hot coffee in my hand, waiting for a stray Milliband needing some refreshment to pluck me out of my provincial nightmare?

mandy

I wonder which lucky bastard bought this for him

 The underlying request amongst most users of interns anonymous is that these internships should be regulated with a statutory minimum pay. This might seem like the reasonable thing to do when so many of us are suffering at the hands of that amorphous tentacled monster in London. However, as media and public affairs have been professionalized, certain principles have slipped. Our constitution is gradually eroding and our reporting remains as unreliable as it was during the yellow press period of Hearst’s America. The prospect of increasing the regulatory powers of the state sector and paying interns in the media will only entrench these problems or create further negative consequences.

Continue reading ‘Quit your bellyaching’

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