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Calls for paid internships to combat 'exploitation'
Forcing employers to pay interns could result in less places, as companies struggle to afford short-term employees
Harriet Grecian
Wednesday, 03 February, 2010 | 09:00
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Credit: Sarah G on flickr

As graduate numbers increase, campaign groups have called for all internships to be paid in order to eradicate exploitation by employers.

Intern Aware last week launched a campaign in response to a report chaired by former Labour cabinet minister Alan Milburn, on the accessibility of the labour market for young people in Britain. 

The report found that although higher education was now more accessible for people from poorer backgrounds, inequality existed within the internship system in Britain.

Becky Heath, co-founder of Internocracy, an organisation aiming to increase the quality of internships across the UK, told The Journal: “It's important that internships are paid because, firstly, it's the law if you agree set hours and responsibilities with the employer.
 
“Students can often be susceptible to exploitation through internships as, often, employers depict the opportunity as an investment in their future and a sure way into a career."

The group believe that all interns should receive the minimum wage for the work placements they undertake.

"This tactic is increasingly being used as more organisations latch onto the idea of internships as a way to access cheap and willing labour.

"Internocracy exists to ensure that employers are clear about their responsibilities to interns, and interns are not needlessly exploited,” said Ms Heath. 
 
In the current job market students and graduates are feeling increased pressure to embark on work experience and internships in order to improve their CVs, but many are unable to support themselves through these voluntary placements.
 
Ian Tasker, assistant secretary of Scotland’s Trade Union Centre, is concerned at the lack of remuneration that young people see from these internships.

He said: “At the very least these positions should be treated in the same way as any other employment and paid accordingly, at least at the minimum wage rate applicable at any given time.

"To do anything else is just playing on the naivety of young people entering employment. The United Kingdom government and the Scottish Government should be looking at how we eradicate student hardship and not increase the amount of young people living below the poverty line.”
 
The introduction of an obligatory payment scheme could potentially result in fewer companies being able to afford offering placements, limiting the amounts of students being able to get work experience.   

The campaign comes at the same time as the government's ‘Backing Young Britain’ scheme, launched on 25 January, through which £40 million will fund over 20,000 internships and training schemes in conjunction with a number of British companies. 

Commenting on the aims of the scheme business secretary Lord Mandelson said: "Our national campaign to help every young person to find a job, training or work skills and experience is not just a response to the recession but an investment in our future as we build a stronger Britain."

Tom Richmond, Skills Advisor at the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD), spoke to The Journal about the importance that employers place on work experience.

He said, “We want people to be coming through the door with lots of experience in the workplace but at the same time financial difficulties could be hindering the most talented from getting a position. It would be great if there were no financial barriers but there is always the worry that intern places will then decrease."

Statistics from a CIPD 2009 learning and development survey show that 61 percent respondents said that new employees from school, college or university are deficient in business acumen and lack a strong commercial awareness. 

55 percent reported a general lack of work ethic among new employees.

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