Unpaid internships. Work experience at what cost?


It’s widely acknowledged that internships are a useful training and career-progressing initiative. Yet what ‘Internships – unpaid, unadvertised, unfair’ explores is the cost to the interns in question. According to the research it costs a single person living in London a minimum of £1,019 per month (compared with £926 in 2014) to take advantage of such an opportunity. Note: this does exclude travel costs which are often paid by the ‘employer’. In Manchester this drops to £827 (£788 back in 2014). When many internships run to six-months, we’re talking a sizeable amount of money.

And whilst some organisations are beginning to recognise that this might be a bit unfair (Pret a Manger have started to pay their interns, the Brit Awards introduced ten paid internships to help open up access to the music industry, as have many publishing houses), there are a whole lot of organisations out there who don’t pay anything.

There are 70,000 internships each year. And of that number the report estimates that 10,000 graduates are in internships six-months after graduation. And over 40% of young people have done at least one internship that’s unpaid.

Yet what is of rising concern is that the cost of living is pricing our young people from families on low and middle incomes. 78% of 18-34 year olds could not live in London away from home to become an unpaid intern.

And that’s not good. One might argue, certainly for a month internship, that potentially this could be surmountable. Perhaps many of these 78% could call on friends, family or wider networks to stay with them for that length of time. A month is not too big an ask.

But six months? And this is where the Sutton Trust is calling for action.

Strictly speaking, minimum wage legislation makes many unpaid internships illegal, but the law is not properly enforced. It’s why the Trust is backing a bill by Conservative peer Lord Holmes of Richmond tightening minimum wage legislation to ban unpaid internships over four weeks in length. It’s a move that has also been supported by the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Social Mobility and the government’s Social Mobility Commission. The Trust would like to see all internships longer than one month to be paid at least the national minimum wage of £7.50 and ideally the Living Wage of £8.56 (£10.20 in London).

The Trust is also recommending that internships should be advertised publicly and that recruitment processes should be fair, transparent and based on merit.

Sir Peter Lampl, Founder and Chairman of the Sutton Trust and Chairman of the Education Endowment Foundation said, “Around 40% of young people who have carried out an internship have done so unpaid. All internships over four weeks should be paid at least the minimum wage of £7.50 per hour.  Failure to do so prevents young people from low and moderate-income backgrounds from accessing jobs in some of the most desirable sectors such as journalism, fashion, the arts and politics.

“All internship positions should be advertised publicly.  Large numbers of internships are never advertised and instead offered through informal networks.  This practice locks out young people without connections.  Also, the process by which potential candidates are selected for internships should uphold the same standards of recruitment as for other jobs.”

Wednesday, 31 January 2018

Share this article

Any questions? Any comments?

Your instant reactions to this article can be posted here. Use your own name or a nom de plume.

Be the first to make a comment...

Please log in to make a comment

Already registered?

Haven't registered?

Register for FREE - it only takes a couple of minutes

Not registered? Click here.

Unpaid internships. Work experience at what cost?
  • Latest jobs
  • Student Recruitment Account Senior Manager Client Job Location: Birmingham, Manchester, Glasgow, Bristol or Watford Read more >> KPMG