Yesterday, I was asked to speak at the ‘Winning Internships’ event hosted by the London Careers Group (the careers advisory service for almost every university in London). There were an impressive selection of over 300 employers there ranging from BSkyB to Morgan Stanley and the intriguingly named MyChocolate to the flamboyant philanthropic millionaire, Felix Dennis’s self named publishing company. The latter even sent both a director and a highly entertaining intern to talk about their positive experiences of working with paid internship schemes using the STEP programmes that we are proud to have been running for over 2 years.
The other speakers at the event included STEP’s CEO, Phil Donnelly and Jon Heuvel, (Chair of The Skills and Employment Forum, London Chamber of Commerce and Industry) who took us through the legal angle on internships which largely dovetailed with our own perspective. I was actually filling in for the Universities Minister David Willets and noted the disappointment that most of the audience must have felt, expecting a politician who studies universities and getting someone who simply studied politics at university. I’m grateful for the positive feedback I received though for talking about the theory of internships, the issues surrounding them and using our work with UPS and the Olympics as a case study for how internships can work in practice. For those of you asking or interested, the slides are here.
As I am always stressing, the critical issue for me is distinguishing internships from work experience and understanding who derives the value which dictates remuneration. In ‘Intern Nation’ author Ross Perlin’s words, through unpaid internships,“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”. In the absence of the government prioritizing graduate employment as a policy or investment focus, it is up to all of us to work together to address this. We should not be regulating, naming and shaming those that don’t pay their interns, we should we educating, incentivising and encouraging them to change their approach.
Having done the first WEXO Summer Fete at UCL and our first ever event at the Guardian London Graduate Fair (run by The Careers Group) it was fitting to be involved. What struck me most was the enthusiasm from employers for doing the right things by graduates whether it be for moral or legal reasons. My thanks to The London Careers Group for involving us.