The catch 22 of the 21st century - struggling to get a job without any experience and struggling to secure experience without a job. This is an issue that millennials know all too well and one which Donald Trump seemed to miraculously defy earlier this year by securing the Presidential seat without any form of political experience at all?
But for the rest of us this dilemma has become a huge challenge, especially for school leavers and university graduates. As a result, many of us end up working as ‘The Intern’, defined by the Oxford dictionary as ‘A student or trainee who works, sometimes without pay, in order to gain work experience or satisfy requirements for a qualification.’
On the other hand, if we search theUrban Dictionary for the same definition we would find a more negative, and probably more accurate description of the role TBH, which features a range of unique phrases such as ‘work bitch’, ‘free slaves in the workplace’, and ‘office puppies’, ‘who willingly becomes a slave to the corporate world because they enjoy getting abused and whipped by supervisors.’
Questionable as these definitions may be, the biggest problem with internships is the fact that legally, there is no actual definition of the term ‘intern’, and it is this grey area that creates a clear loop hole in British law, which means that students can do up to a year’s worth work without being paid.
In order to repair this and the damage that its doing to our society, House of Lords Tory peer Chris Holmes, has recently called on HMRC (HM Revenue & Customs) to investigate lengthy unpaid internships that exploit Britain's ambitious young people..
His Private Member’s Bill, which was originally blocked last November, calls to limit such internships to a maximum of 4 weeks, stopping the exploitation of young people who increasingly end up working for extended periods of time without pay.
HMRC are responsible for collecting our taxes and for regulating various administration regimes, including National Minimum Wage, which regulates the minimum pay per hour that those of school leavers age (16) are legally entitled to. This currently stands at £4.05 for under 18s, £5.60 for 18 to 20 year olds and £7.05 for those aged 21-24. However, young people are only entitled to this if they are classed as ‘workers’, which means employees don’t have to pay if:
- The labour is a part of a higher education course
- The intern is working for a charity/volunteering or if they are receiving a form of reimbursement (e.g. travel expenses)
- The intern is shadowing individuals in the working environment
These clauses, combined with the current importance on having experience on your CV, gives big companies leverage to take advantage of young "workers" (or should I say interns), and creates a barrier for social mobility. According to The Guardian in their analysis of 260 UK-based internship advertisements across two websites - Fashion United and Fashion Jobs, one third of these were expenses-only or completely unpaid. Shockingly, 13 of which included information about the length of the internship, with the majority of these lasting between 3 and 6 months!
A full analysis of this can be found on The Guardian’s website, but just from this snippet of data it is clear that this is a real issue for the future of the work place and appears to be especially rife within fashion and media based industries.
In another article, this time by the BBC, the government estimated that there are around 10-15,000 unpaid internships taking place in the UK every year. An impressive figure by anyone's standards and although these can be valuable stepping stones for students and graduates in their future careers, are the really conducive for the younger generation in progressing and contributing to the current working environment?
Chris Holmes doesn’t think so, and according toSocial Mobility Commission, neither do the public, with 72% of the 5,000-people surveyed backing a change in the law that will stop companies exploiting unpaid interns. Such a change to employment laws could alter the negative cultural ideas surrounding 'the internship'; transforming it from a social barrier, to a social opening, which will pave the way for a new generation of workers.
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This article originally appeared on The Debrief.