Let’s wave goodbye to unpaid internships

Let’s wave goodbye to unpaid internships

Oliver Sidwell, co-founder of RMP Enterprise, gives his thoughts on the recent pr storm around unpaid internships.

There’s been a lot of noise in the press around unpaid internships. In case you’ve missed it, here’s a quick recap…

Research was recently released by the Social Mobility Commission, ahead of parliamentarians preparing a bill to propose a ban on unpaid work experience placements lasting more than four weeks.

Key facts and figures:

  • Almost 5,000 adults took part in the research
  • 72% backed a change in the law (hooray!)
  • 42% strongly supported the ban
  • 80% of people said they would back a proposal to force firms to publicly advertise any placements.

Former Labour cabinet member Alan Milburn supports the cause hugely and was quoted in a recent Guardian article saying:

“Unpaid internships are a modern scandal which must end. Internships are the new rung on the career ladder.

“They 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.

“They miss out on a great career opportunity and employers miss out from a wider pool of talent. Unpaid internships are damaging for social mobility. It is time to consign them to history.”

social media butterflies

For those of you who have followed RMP’s story over the last 10 years, you will know that the whole business is built on helping students find the best undergraduate work experience opportunities for them. We’re proud to work with companies who truly value students in their organisations and pay them well for their efforts.

However, there are lots of companies who exploit interns and we wholeheartedly believe that this is wrong. Here are our reasons why…

  1. Students add a huge amount of value to a company. It’s incredible to read the nominations in the National Undergraduate Employability Awards where it’s not the old ‘tea and coffee’ joke anymore. Students are contributing to a company’s bottom line by getting stuck in with jobs that permanent employers do. Where’s the justice in not paying them?
  2. Students from disadvantaged backgrounds can’t afford to work. In a diverse world, we should be facilitating the growth of EVERY student, not hindering it. Research from McKinsey states that companies who employ a diverse workforce are 35% more likely to outperform those that do not.
  3. Find the best candidates – If companies aren’t willing to pay top student talent, then is it likely the best candidates will apply and join the company?
  4. A recent study by the University of Essex showed that unpaid internships damage long-term graduate pay prospects. So they are actually proven to set interns up for failure! Imagine if that was your child, how would you feel?
  5. Believe in pipeline – 59% of students working across the UK’s Top Undergraduate Employers return as graduates. The time, resource and financial savings, combined with the long-term benefits of having graduates return and stay for longer, mean this belief in student pipeline has become a recruitment focus for most forward-thinking employers and a win:win for all parties.
  6. It is, just plain and simply, unfair!

As a country, we should be supporting all students at all levels in their journey for work experience, no matter what their background is or where they’ve come from. It’s great to see the public supporting on this but there’s still a long way to go, especially in the more creative industries where demand far outstrips the available opportunities.

It’s about time we stop exploiting talented young people and help them get onto the career ladder.


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