23 Apr 2011

Why Do We Even Need Internships?

I'd never heard of internships until I graduated.

Now they seem to be in the news every other day.

When I was 15, we had work experience at school. My dad offered to have me work with him, but I declined, wanting to see what the school got me as it would be a different, more exciting world. It was, I got to work at a K'Nex factory where I basically played with stuff all day.

How did that set me up for life? Well, it didn't.

At fourteen, I was working in a riding stables mucking out, then I got my first paid job in a clothes shop for a tiny £2.50 per hour. I then did the usual rigmarol of waitressing, fast food, and other customer service to fund my room in a shared house so I could do my A-Levels.

Following that, I got a full time job in a wine merchants and put myself through my degree in the evenings.

At no point did I "need" to work for someone for free, nor could I afford to.

Social Mobility

So from a personal point of view, I disagree with both Clegg and Cameron.

I'm not relaxed about internships, I'm positively chippy. Why should people be granted a leg-up in any industry to succeed?

What is wrong with volunteering where your skills are needed?

We've seen the ludicrous furore over Clegg's comments, where most people ignored the fact that it was in spite of his own "leg-up", he was promoting active social mobility.

Now Cameron has jumped in and said he is "relaxed" about internships and social mobility.

This is a great news story. It addresses the differences between the parties without offending the membership of either party, and Downing Street ought to be very pleased with themselves. But more about distractions in the press another day.

Cameron thinks internships are great, having no issue with "giving work experience to personal acquaintances". But, as we know, Cameron thinks nothing of spending £600 on trimming his wisteria, while some of us spend that on a week's rent.

Clegg may think nothing of paying that for his wisteria, but at least he acknowledges the more humble of us with our Lidl shopping.

Do we need interns?

Ultimately, I do not understand why internships exist at all. They are an excuse to exploit those eager to learn, and will always be a luxury of people who can afford to do them without needing to work as well.

The only way addressing internships will affect social mobility is when the government, Blue, Red or Yellow, decides definitively that interns should be paid, at least minimum wage and have protected employment rights.

Anything else will always favour the rich, who do not have to worry about wisteria, and discriminate against the poor, who may not know what wisteria is.

Afterall, you do not see Apprenticeships being offered on a travel-to-work-allowance only.

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