Internships, are they fair?
Are placements in industry a stepping stone to success or unacceptable exploitation? David Law asks the question, are internships fair?
As a mature student I have often considered the impact that any internship would have on my economic health, and with the rise of unpaid internships and summer placements I can’t help but feel this is a worrying trend, especially in the science and technology sector. While work experience is important, especially when it’s relevant, the rise of American style unpaid internships will lead to elitism in education that the universities inclusive admissions policies and outreach efforts are trying so hard to combat.
I can understand why it is tempting for companies, they get someone with a very low effective cost but if it is just the people who can afford to work free for anything up to three months are they really adding value? I think not. There are also many companies however, who are doing great work with paid placements. These should be massively encouraged. Not only will you get to select students on merit rather than ability to go unpaid for any length of time, meaning the value added by having a student working for the company will be greater, you will also avoid the culture of exclusivity that unpaid internships create.
That may have come across as a bit of a rant, I apologise. However I can see how important placements or internships can be and I would encourage people to go for anything relevant they get offered, grab it with both hands and run with it! Employers love to see that you can actually do the work they are wanting you to do and it can be great to see what the job is actually like. If the right placement comes along they are exciting and interesting and add value both to your degree and the company you are doing work for, but you shouldn’t rush to get a placement when this isn’t be the case. It is much more beneficial to go to a company for a summer as a second or third year than it is to go and lick stamps for three weeks as that is all you’re qualified to do.
So are internships fair? No, not with the way the current system works. Do they have to be unfair? No, there are plenty of paid placements where you can gain important and enjoyable experience in the field you want to go into. Does it even matter anyway? Yes, yes yes yes! It shouldn’t matter if you can afford to do an internship you should do your best to find experience in your field, employers love it and so should you!