Graduates are too willing to work for free, says PR firm bossYOUNG WORKERS SHOULD SIMPLY ‘REJECT’ UNPAID INTERNSHIPS

Graduates are too willing to work for free and should simply “reject” unpaid internships, a PR agency boss has said. She also implied that graduates who don’t “value their worth” are partly to blame for making unpaid work a norm.

Her comments followed a confession that her own agency used to “exploit” (her word) interns, paying them travel and lunch expenses only for up to 40 hours work per week. The firm has since changed its policy after realising the practice was “very wrong”.

In an astonishingly frank article for industry blog AdWorld, Jane McDaid – founder of youth communications agency Thinkhouse – outlined the problems with unpaid internships in advertising, and the many groups who she felt were at fault – including agencies, universities and the agencies’ clients.

But she also insisted that graduates themselves must take some of the blame for the fact unpaid (or expenses-only) work has become the norm, saying she was astonished by young people’s acceptance of unpaid internships and their willingness to work for free:

“Graduates must value their worth. I frequently guest-lecture at colleges and always ask the students ‘who expects to have to work for free, or almost free, to break into agency-land?’ Shockingly, almost every time, there is a full show of hands. I tell them that change starts with them. I encourage them to strongly reject unpaid internships.”

Despite this statement, McDaid said she accepted that “most responsibility” lies with employers, and that universities could do much more to help students and graduates find paid roles. She also said that ad agencies’ clients could do more to help, by only using agencies who could prove they paid all their staff fairly. Detailing her company’s historic use of unpaid interns, she wrote:

“Ok I’ll come clean. In the past, I have, as an agency owner, exploited young people.

“Some years ago we hired interns (most of whom had more impressive academic achievements than me) and allowed them work with us for free.  These energetic, optimistic interns worked a 40 hour week but were only given enough money to cover their bus fare and lunch — a couple of hundred euros. This was always with the ‘hope’ of a full-time contract which, given our agency was young and growing, was a frequent occurrence.  But it didn’t always work out that way.

“Shame on me. It took me a few failed internships to realize that this is wrong. Very wrong.

“They turned up and they gave it their all. They stuffed envelopes, undertook research, painstakingly put kits together and held umbrellas in the rain. But somehow, we felt it was a worthwhile experience for them.’  We accepted this as the norm. ‘It’s how the industry works. It’s how we got our jobs.’ Or so we told ourselves.”


Are today’s graduates too willing to work for free? Should young workers stand together and simply ‘reject’ unpaid internships, to end the practice once and for all? Share your thoughts below…

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