The Economist has published an article which insults tens of thousands of graduates by insisting most interns have “only a vague notion of what work involves”. It also appears to be a direct endorsement of the highly controversial agency Inspiring Interns.

In a story entitled Finding good interns is hard. Agencies can help the magazine appears to praise the success of Inspiring Interns, a company which earns £500 from its clients for every month their interns work – while the interns themselves sometimes earn as little as £200 a month (well below the minimum wage). Apparently, Inspiring Interns grossed over £1m last year – after its founder Ben Rosen founded the company with just £20,000.

Frankly, the article makes Graduate Fog want to puke.

It also attacks those who campaign against unpaid internships – including Graduate Fog’s good friend Ross Perlin, author of the brilliant Intern Nation: How to Earn Nothing and Learn Little in the Brave New Economy. We are, apparently, ‘softies’ for believing young people should be paid a fair wage for their labour. The piece begins:

YOUNGSTERS enter the office of Inspiring Interns through what looks like a wardrobe door. The reference to C.S. Lewis’s “The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe” is deliberate: the company wants them to feel transported into a magical new world where they might actually find a job.

With unemployment rife throughout the rich world, more and more young people are seeking internships. Many firms, nervous about the future, are reluctant to hire permanent staff until they have tested them. Intern-recruitment agencies are popping up to help.

Help whom? Young people? Or the tight-fisted employers who are clamouring to take advantage of record youth unemployment and get something for nothing?

The article goes on to claim that Inspiring Interns can provide clients with “competent” interns within three days, processes 300 applicants a day – and that 65% of the interns it has placed have been hired into permanent jobs when their internship ended. (Er, what about the other 35%? And all those who can’t afford to work for free?) When an intern is offered a permanent job with the company where they intern, Inspiring Interns receives a further one-off bonanza fee of 10% of that person’s starting salary (so £2,000 for a £20,000 role).

Other choice cuts from the Economist’s story include these quotes:

“Many intern candidates have no previous job experience and only a vague notion of what work involves.”

“A vague notion of what work involves”? Like the fact that in means contributing your labour to an organisation in exchange for actual money?

“Softies such as Ross Perlin, the author of “Intern Nation: How to Earn Nothing and Learn Little in the Brave New Economy”, complain that unpaid internships are exploitative. They also fret that only well-heeled youngsters can afford to work for nothing.”

My, what “softies” we all are – “fretting” that young people should be paid a fair and legal wage for their labour. Presumably this includes our friends at Intern Aware, Internocracy, Interns Anonymous, the NUS, the TUC, authors Shiv Malik and Ed Howker, Sharon Elliot at BECTU, Michelle Stanistreet at the NUJ, etc etc…

“Ben Rosen, who founded Inspiring Interns with £20,000, says it grossed around £1m last year.”

*Graduate Fog runs off to vomit in the nearest bin*

“Most important, more than 60% of interns in America are eventually offered full-time jobs.”

After working for free for how long? What about the other 40%? And all those who can’t afford to work unpaid?

Staff who first work as interns are also more likely to stick around than those who do not.

Because their self-esteem has been so battered by the experience of working for free for so long, that they no longer believe they could find a better (or better-paid) job elsewhere?

Should the magazine apologise for promoting an agency that pays its interns just £200 a month? Should the government investigate private companies that profit from setting up internships that pay less than the minimum wage? Have you worked as an Inspiring Interns intern? What sort of work did you do – and how much were you paid?

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