In recent years UK graduates have increasingly turned to internships as a way of launching their professional careers. Many leave university to find that a good degree is simply not enough to guarantee a decent job. Meanwhile employers, faced with a large supply of well-qualified graduates, often cite relevant work experience as being a crucial factor in their decision-making process.
A few years ago the Institute for Public Policy Research estimated that there were over 100,000 unpaid internships in the UK. Understandably, this raises serious questions around social mobility and fair treatment of workers. But I think it also raises questions over whether students are leaving full time education with the right mix of skills that employers need.
What is clear is that we need to have an informed debate around internships and their role in society. Further research needs to be carried out to help us better understand the implications of unpaid internships and to point the way forward in policy terms.
One piece of information that I am particularly interested in finding out is the economic impact of unpaid internships. Suppose that the IPPR figure (from 2010) of 100,000 unpaid internships is accurate. If each of those interns worked full time for a period of three months (35 hours per week, based on a 4-week month) then the basic economic impact could be calculated as follows:
(NMW x hours worked per worker) x no. of interns = economic impact
(£5.80 x 420) x 100,000 = £243,600,000
To put this into context, £243 million would be enough to employ 9153 nurses, 7352 teachers or 6259 police officers for an entire year! It is clear, therefore, that more research needs to be carried out into unpaid internships.
At the Relational Schools Project we recently launched a survey open to all UK graduates who had left university between 2009 and 2013. We would be really grateful if you could spare a few minutes to fill in our survey and to share it with your friends.
Click here to take survey