UK Graduate Internships: Experience or Exploitation?
There is a rising level of concern over the plight of British graduates taking up internships because they can't find paid employment.
Some interns are complaining that they're being treated as slaves according to website Interns Anonymous. The influential Trade Union Congress claims thousands of young people are being exploited by unscrupulous employers.
Internships are rapidly getting a bad name in the UK. In theory an intern spends a few months with an organization to gain experience while giving the employer an opportunity to get to know them. There is an expectation that many internships will lead to a paid job.
Before this happens, the employer chooses whether they make any contribution towards the intern's expenses, but they have no right to expect the intern to 'work' unless they comply with the UK's minimum wage rules.
The reality appears to be very different. Interns are complaining that they're being asked to perform tasks expected of paid employees while being dangled the carrot of a potential paid role. Many of these implied promises are being broken in the view of interns who, after several months of virtually unpaid labour, come to believe they are simply being exploited.
There seems to be a growing chorus of discontent among groups who support interns. Intern Aware are actively campaigning for interns to be paid the national minimum wage. At the same time more and more business organizations, such as the Federation of Small Businesses, are promoting internships as a solution to the problem of graduate unemployment.
The economic downturn has pushed the UK's unemployment to levels not seen since 1997 and graduate unemployment is at its highest since records began in 1993.
There's a growing likelihood that one legacy of this recession will be a change in the way that internships are perceived and perhaps a change in the way they are operated.