It has become incredibly fashionable in the creative industries to expect free labour from the fresh meat; the newly graduated, the interns and the juniors of the team.
Countless times I have heard my friends say, “I’m working at this place, well it’s an unpaid role, but it’s the experience that counts?”
Well yes – to a certain extent. But, there’s only so many times you can work for free.
A video that has recently circulated on social media mocks the notion of the unpaid service worker.
The comedians known as Foil Arms and Hog produced this sketch, about the expectation of working for free, to suggest that a tradesman would not show up to your house and render his services without charge, so therefore why should someone trying to build a portfolio of work, or provide a creative service be treated any differently?
And I am in full agreement.
Going into my degree, not quite as a mature student, but beyond the age of 18 with a little more experience than one might have fresh out of college; I had written for a variety of blogs and online magazines – all unpaid of course.
At the age of 19, I expected nothing more. I was living at home; supported financially by a pub job and a Christmas temp role in a shoe shop; I was excited at the prospect of getting my writing published and having a magazine to add to my CV – money was the last thing on my mind.
But now, at the age of 23, with my imminent graduation looming and the scary prospect of heading into the big wide world of work, it scares me to think that a potential few months (maybe years) of my working life will be unpaid.
Travel expenses included – if I’m lucky.
And that’s just how it is and I need to be cool with that.
But why?! If I was to leave an accounting degree, I would go into a junior role, on a starting salary and be earning from day one on the job.
Unpaid work to me suggests you are volunteering your services and surely should be optional.
But for many this is not the case.
“If you love something enough you’ll be willing to ditch a few nights out or shopping sprees to chase your dreams.”
And for some, this is not the opinion.
Last year I worked with Gabi Melendez during a radio internship last year; currently Gabi works at three radio stations, two of which are unpaid positions.
Gabi puts a positive spin on it though: “If you love something enough you’ll be willing to ditch a few nights out or shopping sprees to chase your dreams. It does take a lot of patience and dedication, but it’ll definitely get you to where you want to be.”
Employment is at an all-time high of 74.6 per cent in the UK with figures showing that the number of people in work rose by 37,000 between October and December in 2016.
So do we have too many workers and not enough roles available? Are roles being created because companies are inundated with applications?
And are there too many people to fill very limited spaces, so they are creating positions and providing travel expenses out of guilt for not having the funds to pay the worker?
This all seems very suspect to me, and probably completely false.
Is it because we are allowing this to happen?
Perhaps, if so many of us didn’t break our backs to take unpaid positions or even apply for them, they wouldn’t have the support and therefore wouldn’t get away with it?
Intern Aware states that, “Unlike apprenticeships, internships are not directly regulated by any body or statutory scheme, aside from general employment protections. The law on internships is not widely understood.”
The Sutton Trust is an organisation committed to providing educational opportunities and improving social mobility.
I was eligible to complete a summer school at Nottingham University with Sutton Trust for English whilst doing my ‘A’ levels, which was available to those who had achieved good results academically, but were from a background that was less likely to attend university or would be the first in the family to go.
The Sutton Trust estimates that at any one time there are approximately 21,000 unpaid interns in the UK alone.
This figure is shocking and infuriating. Not only does it affect graduates of any background, but it is disallowing many people from working class social backgrounds to apply for their dream role.
As of January 2017, MPs called to ban unpaid internships as they prove to be a barrier for social mobility, but in November 2016, a plan to put this ban into effect was blocked.
Despite this, the plan is being put forward yet again – which is especially positive considering that research shows that people from affluent backgrounds who attended private schools take a huge number of the best jobs.
Artefact wanted to find out about the long term monetary impact on people who have graduated and entered unpaid employment to improve their status as a graduate without experience.
Speaking to Nicola Goodheart, a mortgage advisor for Halifax bank, she has noticed that “more and more graduates are not in well-paid jobs and are being turned down for mortgages because they have so much debt to pay off.”
She said that it is more likely for young people who “have a trade” to earn better because they make larger amounts of money faster than those in graduate positions, having to work for less for a longer time.
When telling her that my 16-year-old nephew is going to attend college and train to become an electrician she said “that’s possibly the best route he could take”, in financially stable terms.
Nicola spoke about her own route into banking saying that she is uneducated at a high level, but worked her way up through the ranks and is now earning a decent wage, often a lot more than the young couples she advises.
With this in mind, is it too much to hope that eventually all interns will be paid at least minimum wage?
That isn’t to say that all internships are unpaid, but with so many people willingly taking these jobs for the experience they provide, it will take a change in the law to make a true impact.
Featured image via Foil Arms and Hog