It’s well over a year now since we wrote a blog on unpaid internships, (by which we mean internships that aren’t paid at National Minimum Wage, currently £6.31 per hour if over 21) but we still find ourselves explaining to companies why we don’t choose to advertise them and why they should seriously consider paying their interns.
At the end of last year, WEXO was a part of The Creative Society Fair Access Campaign behind this Creative & Cultural Skills video against unpaid “intahnshups“ with @gapyah’s Matt Lacey / Orlando. Before we get on to the nitty gritty, it’s quite amusing but we think it also makes a tragically fair point:
As the Summer approaches, we feel compelled to reiterate our stance in less humorous terms:
1. We do not believe in naming and shaming companies who don’t pay their interns. You might not have thought the issue through (that’s our job) and we know that many of you calling the shots now had to work for months (if not years) for free yourselves but that does not make it right, and that was often before National Minimum Wage legislation (1998) anyway.
2. However, companies are starting to get sued for not paying their interns… Last year in the US, a host of companies including Conde Nast Publications, Universal Music, Viacom, Donna Karan, Sony and Fox Entertainment Group had lawsuits filed against them by unpaid interns. This has led to reports that Conde Nast will be closing its internship programme altogether.
3. We prefer to incentivize and encourage companies to pay their interns. This is a grey area and as per above, the ‘stick’ approach might choke the opportunity pipeline altogether. That is why we are a licensed partner of Step (who we worked with to recruit for the London 2012 Olympics), the UK’s leading organiser of paid student work placements and graduate internships. Launched in 1986 originally as part of Shell UK’s social investment activities, and now run independently, they have supported over 22,000 Step placements for students and recent graduates in businesses right across the UK. We offer their programmes which administer a training allowance, saving clients the burden of time and paperwork.
4. Work experience is different from internships – it’s all about where the value is added… We are all in favour of work experience (and started our company focusing on it entirely) but (as per our February 2012 blog) there are 3 key differences which relate to age, duration and therefore what the remuneration level should be:
i) WORK EXPERIENCE: This generally consists of short placements (generally 1-2 weeks), usually for younger people (16-18), to get a ‘taste’ of the working world but not involving manual labour. They do not need to be paid (because the young people derive the lion’s share of the value whilst learning) though companies should be encouraged to pay expenses.
ii) INTERNSHIPS: 1-3 month placements, largely for undergraduates and increasingly graduates, which should be paid for legal AND moral reasons given that the company derives financial value which should be shared. (Some argue that internships should be abolished all together but their flexibility makes them useful for both employers and young people and if paid they are valid employment vehicles).
There are of course some exceptions to the rule. Longer term work experience required (or encouraged) to be undertaken by students as part of UK based higher education courses is, for example, exempt from the National Minimum Wage where the arrangement does not exceed one year. We do not encourage this but we understand that in some instances this does allow more work experience opportunities though we suggest such placements lasts no longer than 4-6 weeks.
In essence, if the value generated by a placement in a company results in more benefit to the company than the student / intern, then they should be paid.
5. Morality: I pay my cleaner £10 an hour so why wouldn’t you pay your interns just over half this? We pay our interns NAtional Minimum Wage here at WEXO (we’re a start-up too) and as Ross Perlin says in his book ‘Intern Nation’: “All of us – employers, parents schools, government agencies, and interns themselves – are complicit [albeit subconsciously] in the devaluing of work, the exacerbation of social inequality, and the disillusionment of young people in the workplace that are emerging as a result of the internet boom.” Not paying your interns, disenfranchises (and exploits) those who can’t afford to work for free which is contrary to meritocracy and the good of the nation per se.
6. Supply, Demand and ROI: The crux of this debate for us is that is that the more you pay, the better the quality of candidates you are likely to attract and the harder they will work. Studies show that the average ROI of employing a graduate over 3 years is 530%.
The future generation’s wellbeing (and the country’s) is in your hands…
Robin Kennedy – CO-Founder, WEXO
Check out our other Blogs on unpaid internships:
It’s my work, he’d say, and I do it for pay… (01/12/09)
Is the New Government Plan a Quality Guarantee? (26/01/10)
The Ever-Present Dilemma of Unpaid Internships… (26/01/11)
George Osborne needs some more work experience (24/03/11)
WEXO invites government to make ‘It’s not who you know, it’s who you are’ a reality (05/04/11)
Another day in the office… The PM’s office… 27/04/11
WEXO REVIEW: Intern Nation and other stories… (17/05/11)
INTERN NATION? How do we skill up young people to get jobs? (31/05/11)
It’s my work, he’d say, and I do it for pay… (01/02/12)
Being David Willets: Winning Internships (23/02/12)
To Pay or Not To Pay? The Great Internship Debate (21/08/12)