Insights for employers
It is 2019, and workplace inclusion, diversity, and equality remain key conversation topics for leading businesses. But many young people are still being put at an unfair disadvantage by the extensive number of unpaid internships that still exist.
A recent survey from the Sutton Trust found that one in four graduates has completed an unpaid internship – a finding which is simply unacceptable.
Unpaid internships are the privilege of the few – most likely those who live in a major UK city. For those living outside cities or whose parents cannot afford to support a young adult at home, working full-time for free is a pipe dream. Analysis shows that even if travel expenses are covered, an unpaid internship can cost £1,000 a month in London and £827 in Manchester – an extortionate price to pay to get ahead in your career.
Getting your foot in the door as a recent graduate can be tough, and the processes are time-consuming. Securing an internship at a leading business is now just as competitive as getting a full-time role.
As a result, when organisations offer unpaid internships, young people are being taken advantage of. Graduates should not be required to put themselves in an unstable financial situation to get the experience that they need.
So, who is really benefiting from this arrangement?
Employers may be under the impression that the arrangement of a zero-cost employee is a win-win situation – students and graduates gain valuable work experience, while businesses get enthusiastic, hardworking young people to relieve the burden of admin and research tasks at no cost.
This win-win mentality is a short-sighted approach that is damaging to an organisation’s reputation and future growth trajectory.
There is a lack of understanding about the huge benefits that businesses can gain from paying all their staff, interns included. Unpaid internships have a knock-on effect throughout sectors, preventing diversity of thought, creating a culture of nepotism, and encouraging an ongoing cycle of backwards-thinking mindsets.
Offering paid internships is a surefire way to breathe new life into your business. It opens the doors to any young person, whatever their background, with the right skills to contribute to your business. This will alter the demographics of who is recruited at entry level.
Some of the worst offending sectors such as retail, fashion, and politics have been hugely criticised for being unreflective of the wider British society. Organisations need to plan for the future – because who they attract and recruit now will shape how that sector will look in 10 years’ time.
Furthermore, paying your interns is a short-term cost. An intern can quickly become as invaluable an asset to a team as a full-time employee, who will drive new ways of thinking that will be crucial to progress in the long run.
Crucially, unpaid internships also walk a fine line of legality. It may be easy to navigate around the regulations, but dodging legal responsibilities and consciously placing a financial burden on 21-year-olds does not bode well in an era of growing corporate responsibility, diversity goals, and a widespread call for work-life balance.
The young talent that you employ now will shape the future of your organisation: it will determine whether it flourishes in the face of shifting technological, environmental, and societal landscapes.
The workplace is changing – keep up and maintain certain values at the core of your business. That includes paying your interns.