Archive for the 'Policy' Category

NUJ to update work experience/intern guidelines

A new set of guidelines will soon be launched for news and media organisations that take interns and work experience students.

The guidelines, designed by the National Union of Journalists and industry training organisation Skillset, will be a guide for employers to protect young journalists from exploitation. The two groups have re-evaluated previous guidelines from 2007 in response to a rise in the number of graduates who feel compelled to work for little or no wage.

“While most people we raise this with recognise the problem exists, most are surprised by the extent to which major media organisations are relying on free labour,” said NUJ general secretary Jeremy Dear last year.

A sentiment many readers of this site will agree with.

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.

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!

If people want to work unpaid, we shouldn’t stop them

I have read some of the articles about interns and I do agree that you need resources to be able to do an unpaid internship for any length of time and this does discriminate against less privileged members of society. However, in my area of work with international students, we find that internships are so important to them, they will save money from their student jobs and do menial jobs at weekends, whilst doing placements, in order to be able to fund the experience.

It is increasingly evident that without experience, it is very difficult to get career progression, particularly in industries like the Arts, Media, Finance etc. Unpaid experience is often the only way to bolster a C.V. and give the graduate a chance to get on the first rung of their chosen career ladder. Large companies do have structured placement schemes and many can afford to pay minimum wage, but for most small and medium sized enterprises, paying an intern is beyond their budget. Employers also feel that time is needed to dedicate to raw recruits and that the experience they will have will be invaluable and build up much needed practical knowledge, work skills and understanding of business.

Continue reading ‘If people want to work unpaid, we shouldn’t stop them’

I don’t see a penny of it

I am 23 years old, graduated two years ago and am currently on my second internship. I do a full 42.5 hour week for a public affairs organisation, and I pretty much get given anything that’s going spare….in short I’m completely disillusioned with the political scene.

I am proud that we have a minimum wage in this country, however a lot of companies bypass the law by offering “internships” which amount to unpaid full time work. I am doing this internship in a desperate attempt to get some paid work. I am in a very bad financial situation because of it, and I’m unsure how I will pay my rent and other bills at the end of next month. Something seems seriously wrong about this, I have a degree yet I’m only good enough to work for free? Where else in the world would refined educated knowledge go for free? 

The company I currently work for clearly need the labour, they’re just not prepared to pay for it. The work that I do for free is sent to a paying client and I don’t see a penny of it. I don’t see how this can be legal and I don’t understand why no one has done anything to rectify it. In light of this could someone please provide an answer to the following questions:

Is the concept of an “internship” legal?

If not, can I claim any money from my employer?

Will anyone adhere to or enforce this country’s minimum wage rules and stop this blatant exploitation of young labour?

Worcester University develops new paid internship scheme

The Independent has published an article about Worcester University’s new paid internship scheme. Graduates get paid to do 4 days a week interning in a local business and spend the other day gaining a qualification in business. Good thinking from the Vice Chancellor David Green- he managed to channel money from various funds into this scheme, whilst the government are still umming and aaahhing- rather than acting. The scheme allows students to get work experience, an extra qualification and to avoid further…debt. 


Clever David Green- Vice Chancellor of Worcester Uni

Clever David Green- Vice Chancellor of Worcester Uni

Milburn Reaction

 The response to the Milburn report has been mixed. I was glad that people were discussing the issues of internships. Some have said the report states the obvious, others have been dismissive.

Listening to some of radio debate about the issues that the report raised, people seem to have misread the core findings. Obviously the rich/working class divide is a clear marker for people to acknowledge – but its surprising papers like the  Mail have not picked up that it’s kids from middle class families that are missing out on good graduate jobs because, although they might get a great degree from a great university… this is no longer enough to get you an entry level graduate job. Its not just working class families who are missing out on connections and internships – it’s anyone outside a select London bubble.

Given that many journalists exist in this bubble themselves, and employ rafts of interns to bring them coffee and wipe their arses, it’s no surprise that this isn’t getting as much coverage as it should do. I’m not being a conspiracy theorist, or suggesting there is a cover up. I just don’t think they see it as important.

There have been some good follow-ups to the issues Milburn raises. Polly Toynbee, for instance, writes:  

The rise of unpaid internships gets the blast it deserves. It’s free labour slavery for the young who can afford to do it and yet denies access to all without parents to support them. All kinds of professions gladly take in bright graduates for free, so their CVs shine with experience their less fortunate contemporaries lack. It should be banned under employment law: instead the recommendation here is for a code of practice with a Kitemark, requiring wages and grants. 

Roy Greenslade discusses the problems facing the unsupported getting into journalism:

At the centre of most of the discussion, however, is the fact that would-be journalists are now often required to do long stints of unpaid work experience, a fact that has been pointed out by Jeremy Dear, general secretary of the NUJ. This is fine if your family lives within striking distance of your chosen publication, or you are sufficiently well-off to support yourself while your pay packet hovers around zero, or you know someone who can get you into a newsroom – or indeed all three – but a bit trickier if they don’t. And by a bit trickier, I mean pretty much impossible, given the level of student debt many candidates are likely to be carrying and the competition for work experience placements.

Then came the phenomenon of working for nothing. Newspapers, magazines and broadcasters discovered a ready supply of young, enthusiastic students willing to take up unpaid short-term work experience places and even long-term internships. Only the wealthiest of budding journalists can afford to work without pay.

Indeed, only relatively wealthy young people can afford to take the one-year post-grad course at City University. We now charge about £8,000 to enrol on the masters course in journalism, a well-known stepping stone towards journalistic careers in newspapers, magazines, television and radio.

Given the high cost of accommodation in London, it is virtually impossible for working class graduates to afford (though I concede that, remarkably, some still manage to do so).

Sadly its only the Guardian which feels the need to mention these issues, or develop on the points Milburn raises. So much of the reaction on the blogosphere has been un-constructive and dismissive. My hope is that the report is the beginning of a wider discussion about internships - I fear this will be drowned out in a debate about private schools, working class inner city kids and political posturing.  

A Loan for all seasons

Chapter 7 of the Milburn report on social mobility is in many ways right on the money. It is a surprisingly non-jargon filled report on internships. It tells us why internships exist, what purpose they serve, describes their flaws and suggests ways in which the system can improve. It tells us about problems, particularly issues of social exclusion, and it provides some practical solutions to these problems.

There is some good stuff about opening internships up to people who didn’t know they existed, couldn’t afford to do one, or didn’t know the right people in the right places.

I like the idea of giving internship schemes marks out of ten or ‘kitemarks’ and I like the idea of Universities providing interns with accommodation to stay in London. But…there was always going to be a but…there is an unhealthy emphasis on loans.

Why is it always loans these days? Lest we forget: we are in diabolical debt. Legendary debtors from Dickens’ novels would never have dreamt of the debt that the UK currently finds itself in. 


Classic debtor Mr Micawber could never imagine how much debt we're in

Classic debtor Mr Micawber could never imagine how much debt we're in

It’s not just the state- most graduates will have taken out a student loan to complete their studies and will have £10,000 or more to pay back when they finish. I know this from personal experience.

Milburn et al seem to confuse a ‘loan’ with ‘sweets’ or ‘fluffy bunnies’ because it seems like there is no connection between a loan and MONEY. A graduate taking out another loan to do an internship will be taking a risk.

The prospective intern will be thinking about how they will pay it off- and whether they will get a job out of it. OK, it’s supposedly only a ‘micro-loan’ to cover a month of living in (most probably) London but it’s still going to add up to around £500-£1000. 

Graduates from affluent families will still have more incentive to intern than those without the money. Loans are money and do not level the playing field. I know it would represent an investment and hopefully the intern would get a job after taking out a loan but this happy outcome is by no means guaranteed.

The report provides alternatives to loans but it still devotes 6 of its ‘recommendations’ to the promotion of loans for individuals (take a look at recommendations 56, 57, 59, 61, 62 and 63 on pages 111-112 of the report). 

I really don’t think that loans, however small their interest payments, should be promoted or mistaken as a solution. We need to be creative about this. Hit me with your ideas- aside from paying interns a wage (the obvious and in my view correct solution) what do you think could be done to make internships more accessible?

Graduate unemployment soaring like an eagle


Look at this eagle. See how it soars. Now imagine that the eagle is unemployment.

Look at this eagle. See how it soars. Now imagine that the eagle is unemployment.

What tangible things can employers offer unpaid interns short of a salary?

I’ve just finished a year in which I did a good deal of unpaid work after graduating in July 2008. I’ve now been offered full-time employment and have realised that I’ve gained an awful lot from interning (it is a verb by now, isn’t it?) and believe it was worth much more than an MA in my case.

However, there are too many examples of employers offering the interns very little apart from the name of the organisation on one’s CV. Take this as an example. Filing? Booking flights? Expenses claims? Basically, they can’t afford another decent full or part-time administrator which they clearly need. And there’s no mention of expenses. Shame on UNHCR.

Continue reading ‘What tangible things can employers offer unpaid interns short of a salary?’


Another seven MPs have signed up to the early day motion calling for a new interns agreement. Is your MP conspicuous by his absence?

Iddon, Brian

Cryer, Ann

Durkan, Mark

Francis, Hywel

George, Andrew

Gerrard, Neil

Kramer, Susan

A wage for all workers

Though I understand what motivates skilled graduates to take unpaid work, and that NGOs, the public sector, private companies (and pretty much everyone these days) take on interns to produce results within tight budgets, I believe that if these employers genuinely can’t afford to pay all of their workers they should face up to their fate and either downsize or go under! If not, they should be paying workers according to the law at national minimum wage. Continue reading ‘A wage for all workers’

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