By, Lauryn Clark, Second Year History
Graduate jobs have become increasingly competitive, and in an attempt to whittle down candidates many companies are requiring students to have previous experience in the field or sector in the form of internships or work experience. However, many internships are unpaid and work experience is often categorised by employers as ‘voluntary’ - this has become a subject of criticism as some are calling the practice exploitative.
This has the unfortunate consequence of pushing out students from low-income and minority backgrounds who are usually the least able to take on these internships, due to the lack of pay.
Unless you have parents who are prepared to bank-roll your dreams you're going to really struggle with getting onto graduate schemes.
TargetJobs estimates that between a third to a half of all internships are unpaid and the Taylor Review submitted to the government in 2017 argued that unpaid internships are ‘exploitative’ and that employers are benefiting unfairly from unpaid work. So should students have to work for free?
If students are actually doing productive work then it is defintely unfair if companies are refusing to pay students. Unpaid internships are frankly elitist, as only students who can afford to spend months on end without pay are able to participate.
However it is not just specifically the lack of pay that makes unpaid internships inaccessible. Unpaid internships have many hidden costs, such as travel and accommodation, and this means that not only are interns missing out on pay by taking part in an internship, but they are actively losing money by having to fork out for workplace expenses. This means that unless you have parents who are prepared to bank-roll your dreams you're going to really struggle to afford a week of work experience.
Another issue for many students, is that the majority of internship opportunities are based in London. It is undeniable that London is an incredibly expensive city - after all, there is a reason that students who study in London get a higher maintenance loan!
The expense of working in the city can be off-putting for students who live near or in London, let alone those who live outside the city, who then have to commute for hours everyday or find eye-wateringly expensive accommodation in London for the duration of the internship. Research from The Sutton Trust in 2018 found that the minimum monthly cost of doing an internship in London (taking into account rent/accommodation and bills, travel and other living costs) was £1,019, versus £827 in Manchester. When put into a solid cost like this, it is clear to see why unpaid internships are simply not an option for most students.
So, should internships and work experience be paid? If employers want to make sure that the best candidates rather than the richest candidates can apply to their programme, then yes, internships should absolutely be paid.
Have you ever undertaken an unpaid internship and was it worth it?