Sunday, 18 November 2012

Think Before you Intern!

Internships, on the surface they're a wonderful way for first timers to gain experience in there chosen career field. It makes sense doesn't it, your fresh out of University (or other place of training) with a flash Degree (or equivalent qualification in your chosen field) and your ready to start earning. Only problem is there are hundreds just like you competing for limited numbers of placement and since you all have zero real world experience it can be hard to get your C.V. (or Resume as the Yanks call it) to stand out from the crowd making job hunting a bit of gamble.

But don't worry though the corporate world (famed for its conscientious policies and operational propriety) has seen the problem and come up with an ingenious solution. Work for free and or a fraction of the wage for a year or more and maybe just maybe you'll get a permanent position.

If you think I'm being my typical cynical self and the cute singing puppies above didn't convince you then don't worry read on I have another fancy Infographic for reference if you find my rambling a bit hard to navigate.

 Internships Infographic
There are of course a number of serious structural problems with internship programs, from the point of view of the internee I mean. From the accountancy department and recruitment office Intern standard procedure must look very rosy.

Leaving aside the fact that in most cases interns aren't paid.... Actually no lets not leave that aside that's a very important criticism. Not paying an employee -which is what an intern is an employee calling them something else and denying them benefits like wages and some job security doesn't change that fact- is bad news for everyone except senior management.

Its bad for the actual Intern, obviously since they are giving their time and labour freely for an extended period. By becoming an intern you are making a commitment to that company which while not cast iron does tie you down for awhile which can make it more difficult to take advantage of other better opportunities (like a position with an actual wage) in the jobs market. Also living expenses and personal finances will be quite tight and any student will tell you the winter months can be quite gruelling especially when living off rice and noodles.

Its bad for the already qualified job seekers as the more positions filled by interns means less openings for them and the "Fantastic training opportunities" and "on the job experience" is of no use to them contributing to unemployment amongst qualified personnel.

Its bad for the staff already on the job as the more work farmed out to interns the less "valuable" their roles are creating a negative influence on their wages and chipping away at there own job security. Admittedly this is true even if the position is paid but in that case the negative aspects are at least lessened.

Of course the sacrifice would be worth it if it was guaranteed or at least nine times out of ten lead to employment afterwards. Nut the sad fact is it often doesn't. In most cases the Intern finishes their period no better off then when they started. In fact given the financial stresses it often puts on the Intern it actually leaves them worse off.

In fact given the material negatives it means intern programs also undermine social mobility and the meritocratic ideals such schemes are based on. In spite of all the bad things we can say about intern opportunities they do still offer a chance of employment, if they didn't the entire scheme would fail. But since we've already established that in many cases they are unpaid and often involve busywork those from poorer backgrounds will be very unlikely to be able to take the risk.

Which means only those from more affluent families will be able to give them ago and thus get all the benefits these programs do actually have. And since more and more careers are making use of interns and often unpaid this could easily end up closing off entire industries to working class applicants regardless of educational qualifications because they simply can't afford to take the risk.

But enough words from me, lets have a look at the nice picture, the data seems ok at first it seems logical that younger workers would have higher unemployment rates its the old catch twenty two, companies prefer to hire experienced workers and you can't get experience until you get a job. However once again if we read on the data gets alot more sinister. Internships have soared for students since the 90's as have qualification attainment and yet most of them are still unpaid. In fact it seems even worse for American students as there appears to have been some mutual arrangement between Universities (whose tuition fee's far outstrip anything we in the UK and Europe have to bear) and graduate companies.

In my University there were opportunities for intern programs (often unpaid) too however you traded your year long modules for them meaning your yearly credits total remained unchanged. And accommodation was always provided, when off campus. It certainly wasn't a perfect arrangement, the fact that most of these opportunities where just clerical posts and unpaid and often located far away in London -which is so expensive it has its own minimum and living wage recommendations- being common complaints. But it's certainly better then what the picture describes.

Its good to see our old friends in Foxconn finally cut out a couple of its exploitative practices. Shame it hasn't bothered to cut out its really exploitative practices, the phrase arranging deckchairs on the Titanic comes to mind. Nevertheless the fact that they've had to do something to try and please the press and public opinion shows that this deplorable state of affairs is reversible.

The TUC has been running a campaign to stop intern abuse and to get at least a living wage for interns. And there are groups fighting against workfare basically unpaid internships for the unemployed. They combine most of the negatives of interning with the added bonus of maintaining unemployment since companies are using free labour which is constantly renewed rather then hiring staff to fill those positions.

Graphic courtesy of source

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