You only have to mention the words ‘unpaid internship’ or ‘voluntary internship’ before someone within 5 metres of you shouts out “unpaid internships are illegal”. My first reaction to that is: this person has a job and it’s not worth discussing the issue with him or her.
And that in essence is the problem I have with the whole unpaid internships debate. People jumping to conclusions and asking for a blanket ban on unpaid internships. Quite frankly, unless someone is going to lobby the government with millions of pounds, I don’t think anything will happen with unpaid internships.
Unpaid Internships Need To Be Discussed First
18 odd months ago, the current UK coalition government announced some changes to the tax benefits of people donating to charities. The reason being, people were donating to some charities which did no real work and yet people got the tax benefits. The whole voluntary sector went up in arms – in fact, everyone on social media was banging on about how it will hurt the charities which do actual work. The plan was eventually shelved.
Now, consider the government proposes blanket ban on unpaid internships. Will that not affect charities? Who gets an awful lot of people working for them voluntarily? This is one piece of the big unpaid internship puzzle. Calling for blanket ban on unpaid internships is not a solution, in fact, it is stifling the debate and discussion that needs to be had.
Start-ups and Unpaid Internships
Start-ups are springing in every part of the world. It is so easy to start a business that even students and fresh graduates are giving it a go. Sometimes, the idea starts working and they need people to help out. Their best option, without any funding, or getting paid themselves, is to find interns.
A start-up is still a registered business (when it gets registered) and any blanket ban on unpaid internship will mean start-ups will not be able to find people to work for them at the start.
Here is another problem and I have seen this comparing campaigns for two different online start-ups. Two online start-ups wanted social media interns to work for them – one advertised for voluntary worker; the other advertised as social media intern. The one who advertised for a social media intern had a lot more applicants than the one who advertised the position as a voluntary opportunity.
This is reality. Students and graduates want the term ‘internship’ on their resumes. So how do we solve this problem of allowing start-ups to still tap into the talent at the early stage of their business’s set up?
Careers, Students and Industry Need to Feed Into the Unpaid Internships Debate
I previously had a stance – I was against unpaid internships. I have even written about unpaid internships and why they are bad. But over the last year I have given this topic a lot more thought than I previously had and I honestly cannot stand up and support the total ban on unpaid internships.
To be fair, there are existing rules about national minimum wage falana falana… but they are not paid heed to.
Hence, I genuinely think any unpaid internship debate has to be led by careers services, students, the industry and other experts from their field. Far too much of the unpaid internship debate is held by the private sector and careers ‘experts’. I find it funny how a journalist of a major newspaper whose audience is upmarket posh roast turkey diners, writes about unpaid internship. Dude, that’s uncool.
Let the students who will graduate and get into the industry, let the careers services who, as much as you berate them, are still a FREE and good point of contact for students and the industry who will employ them have discussions amongst themselves.
Our job is to aid those discussions. And we all need to be careful what we ask for.
Tomorrow we could get a blanket ban on unpaid internships and realise we’ve ended up doing even more harm to the charity and start-up industry. Unpaid internships are a jigsaw puzzle that needs discussion and collaboration across different sectors to piece the final picture together. The debate cannot be solved on a gung ho approach.
What are your thoughts on it? I want to know what you feel, so please comment below and I will respond to each and every one of your comments!