Unpaid internships, combined with rising living costs, are shutting less-advantaged youngsters out of many careers, according to a study from social mobility campaigners the Sutton Trust.
Even if transport costs are provided, the minimum cost of carrying out an internship in London unpaid is £1,019 a month. And although there has allegedly been some progress since the trust’s last report on the subject, organisations continue to offer internships which are unpaid, and offer internships without formally advertising them.
Current research suggests that over 40 per cent of young people who have carried out an internship have done so unpaid. The most recent government estimate – from 2010 – is that there are 70,000 interns in Britain at any one time.
In 2017, 11,000 internships were found to be advertised online, but many more are likely to be being offered unadvertised.
A Sutton Trust analysis of the most recent official data suggests that roughly 10,000 graduates are carrying out an internship at six months post-graduation, with 20 per cent of them doing so unpaid. And there are concerns that some employers are either unaware that their interns should be paid, or are exploiting the lack of clarity in the law to avoid paying their interns.
The report makes three recommendations. Firstly, to open-up access to internship opportunities, interns should be paid at least the National Minimum Wage (£7.05 an hour for 21-24 year olds, or £7.50 for over 25s). Preferably, interns should be paid the voluntary Living Wage of £8.75 (or £10.20in London).
And the current law should be tightened to ban unpaid internships more than four weeks long.
Secondly, internship posts should be advertised publicly, rather than being filled informally, so that regardless of connections, all potential applicants can apply.
Large numbers of internships are never advertised, and instead offered through informal networks, for example to friends or family of staff. This practice locks out talented young people without connections, limiting their opportunities and hampering their social mobility, the report said.
Finally, as well as being openly advertised, the process by which potential candidates are selected for internships should be fair and transparent – upholding the same standards of recruitment as other jobs. All internships should be awarded on merit to the best candidate, not based on personal connections.
Of course the real answer is that internships should in almost all cases be brought to an end. Workers learning their trade or profession need either to be engaged in a course of study, with appropriate remuneration to enable them to live, or they need to have a properly organised, and again properly paid apprenticeship, neither of which course of action is being pressed for by organised labour (or by anyone else for that matter).