I am an employer. I own a business. I pay all the people who work for me. I pay for everything I use in my business. I do not expect, or get, any charity or any free handouts from anyone. Ever.
For a business to exist it has to earn more from what it sells than what it lays out in expenses. The difference is the profit. Without profit there is no business. As the boss I come last. I get paid only after all the bills have been paid.
In short what business is about is selling a product for more than the cost of that product, it is about making a profit. It is only out of that profit that I as the owner of the business get paid. I as the owner of the business also keep money back in the business each year, I retain profits, to invest in the future. That is what proper business is all about.
If a business has to rely on charity it should not exist. It is not a business. Business should certainly not rely on charity from and exploit young and vulnerable people by getting them to work for it for free.
And now this past year or so the phenomenon of “the Intern” has emerged. People working for business and others, without pay, and not just doing a week or so of work experience, but working for months in that way. An intern, working for free, is an embarrassment to any proper business. It is shaming. A business should pay and pay properly and fairly for everything that it uses including all its staff costs.
What of work experience? I get sixth formers and undergraduates asking me for work experience and for a few each year I give them that work experience. For many it is just a week. For others the work experience may expand to a couple of months. In one case for one young man on a gap year it became six months. If the work experience is a week or less and the young person makes no contribution to my business but just spends that time with us watching what we do and drinking my tea and coffee we do not pay them. They would not expect to be paid. If the person “gets stuck in”, does real work that has value and has aptitude and has the right attitude – the only two things that matter in all employees are aptitude and attitude – then we always pay for the work put in by the person doing the work experience. It might be paying them for a week’s work, or a fortnight or for a month or whatever. Our starting point for wages is the national minimum wage. We vary that upwards depending on aptitude and attitude – in other words how good they are and what they do - and more often than not we pay them the same wage as we would pay a new start student trainee.
It is a point of principle that my business, and in my view every business, should not get anything for nothing and especially from young and vulnerable people.
The sort of unpaid intern stories I am hearing right now strike me as being nothing short of exploitation. They are deeply shaming of the employers who benefit from such arrangements. They say something to me that is very unattractive.
The author runs a firm of Chartered Accountants