Growing numbers of recent graduates are paying thousands of pounds to companies that specialise in securing unpaid work placements overseas. The graduates pay up to £4,000 – often not including flights – to be set up with placements in competitive industries in cities including Sydney, Beijing and Shanghai.

Standout Internships (which I am not linking too because I don’t want to help push them up the Google rankings) offers placements in Sydney in sectors such as finance, banking, law, fashion and event planning. An 11-week summer internship will them will cost you £3,000, including accommodation but excluding flights.

This year, co-founder Jonathan Manning says his company has already fielded 1,000 enquiries from graduates desperate to gain experience. This is how he justifies his business model:

“The fact that students are doing an internship helps them in their applications for a paid job. You need the experience to get the job and if you have to pay for it then it is worth it.”

Another company – CRCC Asia – says it has increased the number of placements it offer (in Beijing and China) fivefold in the last three years. This year, 3,600 young people applied for its 1,300 internships. They pay £1,495 for a month in Beijing and £100 more for Shanghai. The fee covers arranging the placement plus a visa and accommodation. But applicants must pay for their own flights and living costs during their stay.

Campaigners against unpaid internships have universally damned the practice of effectively charging young people for the experience they perceive they need in order to get their first paid job after university.

They said they feared this was the latest development in a worrying trend that is seeing graduates from less well-off backgrounds squeezed out of the race for jobs in competitive industries.

Ben Lyons, co-director of Intern Aware, said:

“It’s incredibly worrying that we’re moving from a situation where people don’t just have t work for fee but are having to pay to work. It puts these experiences and opportunities out of reach of the vast majority of young people.”

Becky Heath, co-founder of Internocracy agreed, saying:

Giving people the chance to pay for an internship actively excludes those who may be just as talented but don’t have the hundreds – often thousands – of pounds which will guarantee them this incredibly valuable introduction to the world of work.”

And Susan Nash, the NUS’s vice president for society and citizenship – and a new friend of Graduate Fog, said:

People shouldn’t have to pay to find work experience that enables them to get into the job market. The Government must wake up to the fact that there needs to be more attention to this area.”

But it seems not everybody agrees these placements are a bad thing. Graduate Sophie Corcut, 23, who studied French and history at Bristol University says she would recommend her Sydney placement with Standout Internships to others. Sophie says she found the £3,500 she needed for the trip using a combination of savings, paid work and a loan of £1,500 from her parents. She said:

“Coming back from China, you’ve got this one thing on your CV that makes you stand out. I suppose it shows you have some get up and go. If you really want to do something you can make the money, however long it takes you.”

Although I expect many Graduate Foggers will find Sophie’s comments irritating, I want to say that I don’t blame her for doing the placement – nor do I ever blame anybody for choosing to do an unpaid internship.

My problem isn’t with the graduates who do these placements – nor with their supposedly ‘sharp elbowed parents’ (Nick Clegg’s phrase). I know you’re only doing what you feel you have to do to get a paid job in this difficult economic climate. And I know your parents are only trying to help you.

My problem is with the companies which continue to ruthlessly exploit young workers, whilst dressing this up as them kindly giving you experience.

As they exploit you, they exclude all your less-well-off friends, who are blocked from these opportunities. Unpaid internships are getting longer and longer, with less and less chance of you getting a job at the end of them. They are pulling down graduate starting salaries. They are giving you the sense that your work is not worth anything – when it is.

My problem is also with this government, which has failed to support you by enforcing the National Minimum Wage, which is designed to protect you.

Politicians, private companies – even charities – can dress it up all they want. Okay, so occasionally endless unpaid internships do lead to paid jobs. But more often than not they don’t – they just fuel this corrosive practice further.

At Graduate Fog we know that ultimately only one group gains from unpaid internships – and that’s the companies which continue to run them.

*Would you pay to work abroad for free?
What do you think of companies like Standout Internships and CRCC Asia? Are they really trying to help graduates get paid jobs in the UK? Or are they simply the latest in a long line of companies who are making money out of your unpaid labour?

Share via
Copy link
Powered by Social Snap