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One-third of graduates employed in unpaid internships

BySameen Hayat

Nov 25, 2014

According to new research done by the Sutton Trust, nearly a third of university graduates in Britain are employed in unpaid internships.

This means that 22 out of the 70,000 people currently employed in work placement schemes are doing so without any pay for the duration of the placement.

The research worked out that the average cost to an unpaid intern living in London for a six month work placement would be roughly £926 a month. Similar calculations for Manchester revealed that the monthly cost to a person would be £788.

In response to a poll done by the Trust it was found that 70 per cent of people aged 16-76 in England agree unpaid internships “are unfair because only people from a wealthy families are likely to be able to work for a significant period without pay.”

However, the effect of unpaid internships goes beyond simple public opinion, having a significant impact on social mobility as well.

Dr Lee Elliot Major, Director of Development and Policy at the Sutton Trust, had this to say: “Unpaid internships are increasingly the gate-way to a job in the most competitive professions. But as today’s research shows, the cost of taking on an internship without pay is beyond the means of the vast majority of individuals.”

Dr Elliot also had a possible remedy to fix the current disparity in opportunities available to university graduates: “Paying all interns who work for over a month the minimum wage would significantly improve access to these placements for those from more modest backgrounds, offering them a stepping stone into many coveted jobs, thus increasing social mobility.”

This would mean that all those interns who work for more than a month would be paid the National Minimum of £6.50 per hour and, according to the research, the National Living Wage of £7.85 as well.

Other recommendations included things such as having internship positions openly advertised and ensuring that the selection process is meritocratic and transparent.

The report by the Trust becomes even more significant in light of the Government’s Social Mobility and Child Poverty Commission’s findings on access to professions for graduates.

According to the Commission’s findings, up to half of the entry level vacancies at the biggest banks and law firms are filled by those graduates who have already done a work placement with their potential employers.

As these work placements are unpaid they are largely accessible only by graduates from wealthy families, meaning that the availability of job opportunities post internship is also tilted towards the rich.

Also, according to the Graduate Talent Pool website, 63 per cent of cultural and creative, 56 per cent of media-related, and 42 per cent of financial and professional services internships are also unpaid for.

Martin Birchall, managing director of High Fliers Research, said: “Work experience is no longer an optional extra for university students; it’s an essential part of preparing for the graduate job market.”

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