"INTERN REQUIRED: Good tea brewing and photocopying skills essential"

Is a few lines on a C.V. and at best, a lukewarm reference worth it? I think not.

As students, we are all aware of how competitive the graduate recruitment market is and how hard it is to get into the dream jobs that sold us into university. The only option for most then, aside from a decent 2:1, is to work an internship for a company in your field of interest at any and every opportunity. Unfortunately, these internships are rarely valuable and in fact, make life for all a lot harder.

Firstly, there is the issue of expense. I speak from experience; I have myself turned down more than a few potentially life changing internships due to the amount of money required in commuting to London and I don’t for a moment think my experience is irregular. It’s simple really; internships and the further opportunities that they provide can, and are, only available to those who can afford them. This is certainly not a problem for students from more affluent backgrounds or it seems those from very poor backgrounds as parents and the government tend to provide very well for these people.

It is, again, a problem for the middleclass student: the student who gets little from either his parents or the government, the student who is common at Southampton. So, these internships cease to be about ability and become everything to do with affordability, hence, these opportunities can’t be based on merit.

Meritocracy is certainly a problem, if not a bit ideological. The question of value though has pertinence right now for every student who would consider this route and as the buzz word for employability amongst students has become “internships” so the opportunities for unpaid students have become more common. It is very easy, in fact, to get an internship with a company that will hone your skills in tea making and paper shuffling as actually paying an individual to do these things will cost upwards of £9,000. Indeed, the market for employing so called ‘interns’ to do remedial administration work for free has expanded rapidly over the past few years and job sites are littered with these opportunities that have, no doubt, caught many students out. Caution, as always, must be applied but even if you’re not making tea and shuffling paper the decision to take up an internship is a lot harder than you might at first think. No matter how wealthy you are, internships cost money.

Bridging the financial gap between how much you can claim on expenses and what it actually costs to work for these companies (travel, lunch, clothes etc.) is large enough, but most students fail to consider the opportunity cost of internships. That is to say the amount of money they could have earned if they used their time doing something that paid even minimum wage. This issue, then, leads to a decision that asks the student to add more money to the “what it cost me to get a decent job” pot that upon graduation they have to recoup. In short, readers, do you think so called ‘crucial’ experience is worth upwards of £1,000 over the two months of summer? Is a few lines on a C.V. and at best, a lukewarm reference worth it? I think not.

What further restricts opportunities for young people is the culture of unpaid internships

Andy Burnham – Shadow Secretary of State for Education

So, as we make it more and more clear that we, as students, are willing to work for free, the grip that internships and ‘relevant experience’ has over graduate positions becomes greater and greater. The more willing we are to work for these companies without pay, the more graduate employers expect us to. Long gone, it seems, are the days when you could graduate and get training upon employment. Today, the balance is cast too much in favour of the employer, this balance needs redressing.