Cara McGoogan quotes Sutton Trust CEO, Dr Lee Elliot Major, and cites Sutton Trust research in a feature on unpaid internships.
Unpaid internships have, for the past decade, been promoted by employers as a necessary hurdle for students, but the “unfair” schemes are finally falling out of favour. Students have long been pushing back against companies who insist on their working without remuneration; now, the Government has announced a crackdown that could end the scourge for good.
The law has long included the provision that young people conducting the work of an employee or contractor have a right to at least minimum wage, but graduates and students still face the difficult choice of turning down experience or conducting it for free. At best, unpaid internships offer young people a chance to build their CV and experience what it is like to work in competitive industries; at worst, they exploit talent and ask interns to cover their own costs. These can amount to £1,019 a month in London and £827 in Manchester, according to the Sutton Trust, a foundation that promotes social mobility through education.
Supporters of the crackdown say the practice discriminates against people whose parents are not willing to bankroll the early days of their career.
“There’s a moral duty now on organisations not to run unpaid internships,” says Dr Lee Elliot Major, chief executive of the Sutton Trust. “To not give someone a decent salary is outrageous.”
Almost half of graduate employers say candidates need to have experience to secure a job, according to the Institute of Public Policy Research. But as a recent study from the Sutton Trust reveals, as many as 40 per cent of young people who have conducted an internship haven’t been paid for it.
Creative industries that have a high bar to entry and require experience, such as fashion, acting and journalism, remain some of the worst offenders.
“It’s really tough getting a foot in the door in many of these competitive industries,” says Dr Major. “In our view, it’s exploitation. You’re exploiting people by not paying them properly. If you’re from a non-privileged background, you’re not going to be able to do it.”
Dr Major says interns should ask for pay, especially if they cannot afford the experience otherwise. “Pick up the phone and be assertive,” he urges. “You should be able to demand to be paid at least the minimum wage if you’re going to give an organisation some of your talent.”
He adds that companies benefit, too: “If you attract talent from all backgrounds, you’re going to have a more diverse and effective workforce.”