The UK finds itself in the grips of a recession which shows no sign of passing any time soon and so businesses must ask themselves: is it the right time to use interns?
Currently the majority of businesses are experiencing a downturn in profits and an increase in their overheads as raw materials cost more, add this to the decrease in the value of the pound and we have businesses panicking as shareholders and owners see their bottom lines go down.
Within a number of businesses one of the biggest overheads is personnel and redundancies are now a common sight in the media on a daily basis. With the reductions in permanent staff and the increasing use of freelancers, can interns become another of those alternatives?
Let’s consider an example. I work in the media industry and within my specific company they announced a number of redundancies just before Christmas alongside a freeze on recruitment of non-essential staff. Since then we have been relying on freelancers to fill in for the staff made redundant, with the surviving permanent staff seeing their workloads increase dramatically.
A production desk requires as a minimum, a production editor, a sub-editor, a designer and a picture researcher to produce a national standard product. Now consider that only the production editor remains and the others have been made redundant, replaced with freelancers on a part-time basis.
Now a basic freelancer brought in to cover production will cost around £150 per day, plus holiday pay, plus every minute of overtime they work. Whilst a production staff member on £32,000 annual on a permanent contract will earn just over £88 per day, and not be paid overtime in most cases. That’s a difference of £72 per day as a basic salary.
This is just the basic salary, added to this you have to take into account administration costs, time for training and familiarising a freelancer with the standard of your product.
Although these are exactly the same as with any new member of staff, the advantage of using a freelancer is that once you have trained them on the system and they should be familiar with similar design tools already, you can trade them amongst titles within a business.
Now what would happen if instead of using a freelancer we used an intern?
There are costs associated with this but these could be minimised if you recruit correctly. Let’s start with recruitment, instead of going to the freelance database that the business would hold and simply calling individuals up to check there availability, the business placed an advert.
Recruitment firms such as Reed and Hays, charge for job adverts, but wait we are not looking for a permanent or contact employee, we are looking for an intern, which requires a different style of recruitment.
The first port of call should be the local colleges and universities to see which run courses in design, and if there are any which require students to partake in work placements?
Secondly the business would need to place an advert in markets where individuals look for work experience within that field. There are a number which are great at attracting promising candidates such as www.w4mp.org.
Once you start to get candidates in you need to see what they can do, so instead of a simple interview you have them shadow someone for a day. If they don’t work out at least your department has someone to make copies and bring tea. Whilst if they show an aptitude for the role and an eagerness to learn then there is no reason that they cannot be brought in to learn the business in a practical environment.
I can see the faces of production staff as I write this, they would be tearing their hair out shouting “I don’t have time for this!” After all they would have to effectively teach them everything in a condensed format just to get them ready to work. Or would they?
When someone finishes a course at say University they most likely haven’t got any real experience in business so what’s the difference with taking someone who has finished a course and is applying for a job and taking someone half way through a course and having them on a work placement?
With the current recession fewer staff are being asked to cover more work and even if there was a new member of staff brought in they would have to be taught the systems used within that individual business. It’s a question that every business needs to ask itself as more and more young people leave education with little hope of getting into employment.
This isn’t just the case with a specialised job like production. Every job requires an element of training even if it’s just how not to fall into the deep fat fryer. Business could offer internships in offices, zoos, councils, schools, shops, charities, abroad or at home, anywhere and in every industry.
We need to get people active and to keep their skills up to date, the only way to do that is through education and employment. Offering internships to people leaving education will help them get into the job market properly, whilst internships could be seen as a way of looking in a new direction for those made redundant recently.
Of course there is another side to this, should people be looking to do internships within business at the moment?
With the recession everyone is finding their wallets a little emptier. With that in mind can someone afford to commit to an internship when they have no income coming in? At the moment job numbers are reducing all over the country, rent and mortgages still need to be paid, but in the case of mortgages a little less, food still needs to be bought and bills need to be paid.
People need to have something that makes them stand out from their competition so my question is how can they not afford to do an internship? Of course whilst you do an internship you can’t look for jobs or attend interviews or claim benefit.
The Prime Minister last week announced a community work scheme for 16 to 19 year olds which aims to give school leavers the skills and experience they need to enter the jobs market, the scheme will help around 20,000 young people to gain qualifications whilst the Conservative opposition suggested introducing a new ‘citizen service’ program for all 16 year olds.
Of course the upside of this for the government is that they can take these people off the unemployment figures for that quarter, but why not go further?
Why not make internships, voluntary work and work placements not count against benefit so anyone who is unemployed can do one and people can still claim financial aid if they need it?
The idea would be that businesses piggyback on the scheme with it extended to include all those who are unemployed, after all most of them are doing it for free with no guarantee of a job at the end of their internship. As a safeguard you would need to set a limit on the length of any placement say twelve weeks and set a limit on the number of placements any individual could go on within a time period.
I say now is the perfect time for employers to look at internships, with a larger number of unemployed people to recruit and that figure looking like it isn’t going anywhere but up anytime soon, so now is the perfect time to get people active in business through internships.