Many of you, such as myself, will have been looking to fill the overlong summer break with some sort of meaningful activity.
Overlong? Yes. In the “old days” children and young people spent the summer in the fields helping to gather in the harvest. With the advent of mechanised agriculture there is no need for us all to spend the summer cutting sheaves of wheat by hand. That’s what the machines are for.
So there’s about three months of time just begging to be put to good use. What are the options? Well you could take an extended holiday, perhaps backpacking across South America or Europe. You might get a summer job to boost your depleted finances. Maybe you’d just like to spend the summer lazing around and doing nothing in particular. Or you could try to get an internship. Boosting your knowledge of your chosen field and adding some serious content to your curriculum vitae.
Internships seem to be pretty much the flavour of the month. The government has even got its own website to aid you in your search for an internship. But is an internship all its cracked up to be?
Now I truly believe that there is a real difference between work experience and an internship. Work experience is a chance for a person, usually of school age, to visit a workplace and observe what goes on. They might get a chance to get their hands dirty, but it’s primarily an opportunity to learn, not to do.
Internships are a different kettle of fish. As an intern you’re expected to actually do meaningful and productive work. Some examples I have gleaned from a cursory search of the net include graphic designer, project manager, business development manager, and even editorial assistant. All of those posts are advertised as unpaid. Not even the offer of paying expenses is made for these positions.
The issue of payment is a thorny one. The government’s own website states: “Employers should also make sure that any internship they offer complies with the law on minimum wages. If an intern is effectively performing as a ‘worker’, then in most cases they will be entitled to the national minimum wage.”
You can also get more details from this document provided by the Department for Business Innovation & Skills. It all boils down to the simple fact that if you are working for a commercial organisation then you should be rewarded, either monetarily or through benefit in kind.
I have looked at, and applied for, a number of internships myself. At most they have offered to pay expenses. Most of them have offered no financial reward at all. Yet they all seem to promise the chance to work hard on behalf of somebody else. The employer gets to benefit from your efforts whilst you enjoy the dubious privilege of an entry on your CV. That doesn’t really strike me as being fair.
My other concern is that these internships are replacing the jobs that graduates used to aim for as their first step on the career ladder. With a plentiful supply of under and post graduates desperate to get some work related experience onto their CVs it seems to make getting that all important first job that much harder.
The intern would appear to be the modern slave. Expected to work for little or nothing and to be grateful for the privilege, but for how long can that be tolerated?Tweet