As the competition for graduate careers increases, internships are fast becoming a sought after route of entrance into employment with prestigious organisations. In an attempt to get a foot in the door, students and graduates are offering their services for free, often at considerable cost to themselves. A third of students and graduates who take up position as an intern do so unpaid, covering the cost of living themselves at an average of £926 per month.
A six month internship in London costs, on average, £5,556, research by the Sutton Trust suggests. A similar position in Manchester would cost less, £4,728 for a six month internship and an average of £788 per month. The figures exclude transport costs, which are often paid for by the employer. The survey argues that interns should be paid the minimum wage at the very least.
Such costs add weight to the argument that internships are more advantageous to the wealthy, who can afford to absorb the cost of working unpaid. The cost of living often precludes less affluent students and graduates, as they simply cannot afford to offer their services for free. The survey suggests that 70% of young people believe the system of unpaid internships is unfair, as only the wealthy can afford to undertake them.
An example of an unpaid internship uncovered by the Sutton Trust’s report was working for an MP. The duties of this position included managing the diary, general administrative duties, handling correspondence, fundraising and campaigning. The remuneration received for such a position was “reasonable travel expenses”.
Securing employment is a competitive and potentially arduous affair. The country is producing more graduates than ever before, each one furnishing the application processes of major UK organisations. As competition increases, students are searching for avenues to gain advantage over their peers. Internships are a great way to do this, as they provide the proverbial “foot in the door”. When the time to apply for their career finally arrives, students can fall back on the network they have created during their time as an intern.
One of the biggest challenges UK employers face is the diversity of their work force. The country’s major organisations are searching for an employer base that is representative of the population they serve. As a result, diversity policies are driving their recruitment processes. These policies are all-encompassing, with social mobility featuring as a high priority that needs to be addressed.
The Sutton Group’s survey provides an insight into one of the hidden roadblocks organisations face when trying to address this issue. Internships are often the first touch point an organisation has with its future talent. If these interns are unpaid, there is a high likelihood that the intern has a wealthy background. Such constraints on these positions reduce the ability of a diverse pool of candidates to participate, thus reducing the diversity of supply when it comes to the organisation’s recruitment process for full time positions. By offering more financial support – at least to provide minimum wage – organisations will access a more diverse range of talent. Their future recruitment efforts will mirror this diversity, paving the way for greater representation of diverse groups in their workforce.
Internships are now a cornerstone of graduate recruitment. We need to ensure these opportunities are accessible to everybody. The benefits will be numerous.