Should apprenticeships replace unpaid internships?

According to new research from the Sutton Trust, taking an unpaid internship can cost a person £926 a month in London or £804 in Manchester, which very few people can afford unless they come from a wealthy background.

The research analyses the costs of living for interns on sixth-month work placements. It took into account rent, bills, council tax, food and miscellaneous spending. It excluded travel costs as these are often covered by the intern’s employer. For the whole six months, a Londoner would pay £5,556 and a Mancunian £4,827.

The report states: “Internships commonly represent a first step in the ladder towards a professional career in the most competitive sectors, including fashion, journalism, politics, law, finance and the charity sector. Because these areas are so competitive, employers are often able to offer internships as completely unpaid positions. These issues make unpaid internships a serious and pressing problem for social mobility.”

Katja Hall, deputy director of the CBI, said: “The law is clear. Someone doing a job should be paid, but it’s important to distinguish between that and informal workplace experience or work shadowing. Banning unpaid internships would only reduce the number of opportunities available.”

A spokeswoman for the Department of Business, Innovation and Skills said: “Internships can provide an important first step and are often a valuable way of helping young people start work. They should be open to everyone in a fair and transparent way. Anyone who is a worker is entitled to be paid at least the minimum wage, this includes interns who fall into the worker category. The government is cracking down on employers who break the law by not paying the minimum wage – we are naming and shaming offenders and increasing penalties.”

BusinesswomanThe Sutton Trust is calling for interns to be paid at least minimum wage, but more needs to be done to highlight the other opportunities available to young people. The reason many young people turn to internships is because they are looking for a way to break into their desired profession. However, they can achieve this by going down the apprenticeship route, and earn money as they learn. Apprenticeships are now available in almost every sector you can think of, from journalism to digital marketing, so there is no excuse for long-term unpaid internships.

Co-founder of Arch Apprentices Ben Rowland commented: “Unpaid internships corrode how firms shape their criteria for identifying new talent, they breed homogeneity of thought at a time when firms need to increase diversity of thought (as well as background) and they cut firms off from where the genuine return on investment lies – in hiring people with the right attitude who are up for learning and for working up from the bottom.  A growing number of firms, such as Google and Facebook, who could have their pick of unpaid interns, are using paid and formal apprenticeships as a much deeper and fuller way of finding the next generation of talent.”