The Value of Internships

Are unpaid internships worth the money?

Internships are a great way for university students to gain practical experience and skills to prepare them for graduation, and are key to building a network of contacts and industry knowledge in a field that perhaps their degree doesn’t offer them. That being said, are all these internships worth their salt?

We’ve all seen the internship and graduate job descriptions brandished under the alluring title ‘opportunity’ that incorporate the key phrases “entry level”, “must have X number of years experience” and “unpaid”. It would seem the reward is heavily disproportionate to the skills the intern would be providing the company. It’s a Catch 22 scenario — you’re applying for something to give you the experience, but are being denied the opportunity because of your lack of experience.

Not only this, but The Sutton Trust reports that 31% of university graduates work as unpaid interns and a six month unpaid internship will cost a minimum of £5,556, excluding travel costs for a single person living in London. As many of the most prestigious internships are in London, it simply is a case of having to give these jobs to those who can already afford to comfortably live.

The Sutton Trust reports that 31% of university graduates work as unpaid interns and a six month unpaid internship will cost a minimum of £5,556, excluding travel costs for a single person living in London

These roles are almost integral to landing a great job in the future, but unpaid internships are an automatic deterrent for enthusiastic, driven students who simply cannot afford to not get paid for their work. It denies the student access to a greater career path, but also denies the employer a larger talent pool. Alan Milburn, Chair of the Social Mobility Commission said unpaid internships “have become a route to a good professional job, but access to them tends to depend on who not what you know and young people from low income backgrounds are excluded because they are unpaid.”

The most notorious culprits of the unpaid internships lie within media, marketing and performance arts, but ultimately with an influx of graduates, it’s sure that even more industries may begin to use the exploitative strategy of the unpaid intern.

Of course, a short-term work experience stint may be beneficial — it could gain you essential skills, perhaps place you in a professional working environment for the first time and help land you a job upon graduation… but anything too extensive is taking advantage of their intern. Is the company really valuing their employees if they’re expecting them to work for free?

Paid interns will ultimately get a greater experience — not only is it paid, but their employers will make sure they get their money’s worth, resulting in more rewarding experience for the intern.

After all, a great CV and and experience do not pay the bills.