On Radio 4 this morning Andrew Marr spoke to Ross Perlin, the author of a new study into the issue of unpaid internships. It was an interesting topic of debate in light of an announcement last month by the National Union of Journalists of its first victory in its Cashback for Interns campaign.
Speaking on Start the Week, Perlin argued that the older idea of work experience is giving way more to an “American notion” of multiple months of serious but unpaid work with an “unspoken barter deal” with the understanding that there may be a paid-position at the end. But more often this is not the case, he claims.
It is a curious mixture of exploitation on the one hand and privilege on the other. People who can afford to do these internships are in once sense privileged, they are lucky to have their foot in the door. People who can’t pay to get into the system, just in terms of the expenses or rent or food, are essentially left out and therefore barred from a whole range of professions which have made internships a virtual prerequisite.
Perlin calls for existing internships to be reformed, adding that he is not calling for their abolition, but the development of a fairer system.
I would say wade very carefully into the internship morass if you must. If you feel you must work unpaid and you can manage to do it, for any individual it might make sense in a particular situation to do this for a brief period of time, but don’t get caught in the internship trap. Know your rights and once you’re doing real work that you should be paid for under the national minimum wage act you should be receiving that pay, you should amend that.
Follow this link to hear the full programme. The discussion on internships starts at about 30 minutes in.
Also today, the Frontline Club website has published an anonymous piece by an intern detailing their experiences of unpaid work.
In most of my experience, however, they rarely amount to more than the routine execution of mundane activities that could and should be done by a paid member of staff or which add little meaningful value either to the intern or to the organisation/publication for whom they are working.