Archive for October, 2011

Battle of Ideas

Yesterday I, Rosy, took part in what people call a ‘lively’ round table discussion. I was looking forward to the table actually being round like in King Arthur but unfortunately it was a regular oblong shape. The debate was entitled ‘Interns or Slave Labour’ although I like to think that none of the people who basically represented the ‘anti-exploitation/pro-social mobility’ side of things  (Susan Nash of Young Labour, Owen Jones of  ‘Chavs: the demonization of the working class’ also that newsnight with Starkey) would compare unpaid internships to slavery. Because that would be wrong and also highly offensive to the memory of slavery (and indeed to slaves today).

The debate basically split along the following lines:

Rob Killick, CEO of cScape, was pro unpaid internships as a way for businesses to get free labour and interns to get a foot up into the job market. He also suggested that young people have been trained for the wrong businesses and that, more controversially, they are to some extent, spoilt, lazy and unwilling to work hard.

Stephanie Lis works for The Freedom Association, which is kind of like grass roots Thatcherism, basically promoting freedom of choice and small government. Her point was that if people want to intern unpaid, they should be allowed to.

Susan Nash, chair of Young Labour, stood against unpaid internships because they shut those from poorer backgrounds out of certain professions and she wanted to see the enforcement of NMW regulations

Owen Jones was the same, coming down harder against the ways in which internships reduce social mobility and setting this phenomena against the wider context of the change in employment practice in industries like journalism (ie. of the 100 top journos in the country, over half are privately educated- a big change from the 50s, when traineeships etc meant that more journos came from working class backgrounds)

And me, I wanted to add something to the debate by bringing in the anecdotal evidence we receive everyday- and basically confirming that the notion of free choice will only ever extend to those who can afford to take that choice.

Owen and Rob had a few heated exchanges about the class system in the UK and whether or not we should live with it or strive to change it; Rob blamed young people’s poor life chances variously on the economy, their own laziness and the work ethic of eastern european migrant workers and the Chinese; and the rest of us responded as the above synopsis of our views would suggest.

The audience, as always, were the most interesting element of the debate. And this is where y’all should comment- questions like…

What can young people do to create jobs?

Isn’t being young and trying to get a job supposed to be hard?

How can we compete in a global economy?

Were my parents wrong to work hard and pay for my University education, given its in the Arts and in many ways now appears to be ‘useless’?

If there are, let’s say, 10 internships and 5 are paid, 5 unpaid- and then the unpaid ones have to go because of a crackdown in the law, what’s the point of that? Isn’t that restricting opportunities?

Thoughts on postcards please…

Graduates, unleash yourselves!

Hello lovely people, apologies for severe dearth of posts of late, illness is to blame. Pity me.

I do hope you are well and not finding the current spate of unemployment figures too depressing. Read on if you live in London or nearby, are out of work, unhappy in your job, your internship isn’t getting you anywhere or you just fancy a change.

Pete Barden helped us out with a short documentary we made, he used to be an intern and is now working for himself and with Peace One Day. He’s come up with a great project called ‘Graduate Unleashed‘. The idea is to demonstrate to graduates, interns and generally fabulous people that “entrepreneuring” is a viable and in fact more beneficial option – if you have an idea you can make it happen. If you feel like you are indeed on a leash, (not literally, this isn’t an S & M party!) then come along to the introductory night, it’s free to register- just click here.
You can come alone or with friends, without any kind of idea at all or with a notebook full of them…basically, we just want to prove that the youth of today are not DOOMED and that we can change the world, or at least take charge of our own destinies.

If this all sounds intriguing come along to the first informal meet up, have some beer and we can all talk about how this should work out- we want this to be led by the people who make it. Here’s the link to book, places are limited to 50.
When-    Wed, 07 Dec, 2011, Start time: 7pm  End time: 11pm
Where-   The Red Herring Bar (downstairs), 49 Gresham Street, London, EC2V 7EH

For people outside of London- Pete is hoping to make this a country wide thing- and is really sorry it isn’t already.

Overview of Graduate Unleashed:

Beginning in January 2012, a 6-month program of 6 informative & inspirational gatherings for recent graduates, prospective interns and current interns. Over 6 months attendees will be encouraged to form groups of mutual interest and complementary skills, with a view to cultivate a project from scratch. What’s more, the project that most impresses an independent board of entrepreneurs after 6 months will go on to earn £20,000 start up capital, a dedicated mentor in a relevant field for a further 6 months and a marketing partner.

Seven internships and counting…is a career in international development worth it?

In my third year of a Religions and Theology degree, I knew I wanted to work in international development. And for this, I knew I’d need some experience. I applied for a part-time internship (… internship number 1) with an international inclusive education network located close to my University, which was a good few months and in hindsight provided me with very useful contacts and experience.

This internship also provided me with research and some editing experience and through doing it, I was offered some voluntary work on another NGO project. Naively I thought that this, combined with a gap year spent in Nepal, would be enough when I started my masters degree in international development. The MSc came and went and by this point I was 23 years-old and with an enormous career development loan debt. I applied for another internship in India (internship number 2) with a Dalit postgraduate learning centre.

I was fresh out of my MSc and back living with my parents, unable to afford to do much. My intention had been to move home after Uni and spend the 3 month gap between then and leaving for India doing temporary work (by this point I was well experienced in admin temping). No such luck. Despite a masters degree, lots of admin experience and voluntary work, I was considered too “over-qualified” for the positions I was applying for. The best I was offered was two weeks working in a factory. Eventually, and kindly, my parents offered to pay for my flight to India.

Internship number 2 was 3 months long and was, to be honest, a bit of a letdown. Very unstructured, no clear profile, etc. Myself and another foreign intern had to pay out own flights, visas and insurance and were paid a very, very small stipend (which was about half my monthly career development loan repayments for which I got into additional debt). Immediately after India, I went to Nepal for internships 3 and 4, working for a women’s rights network and a newspaper, respectively. At the former, I was provided with food and accommodation (which initially meant sharing a room with a teenager and a young child) and basically editing English documents. The second internship at a newspaper was very useful, but only paid a basic rate for articles I had published. They also, frustratingly, had a policy of not assisting non-Nepalis with visas. This meant no job at the end of the internship.

I returned to the UK for financial reasons and after two months of unemployment embarked on internship number 5 at a local newspaper. I was now 25. I initially worked 5 days a week, but they said this was too much of a commitment and reduced my days to 3. I received no travel or food allowance, despite effectively doing the same work as a junior reporter and writing a lot of copy. They had made it clear at the start that there was no chance of a job – but what else was I supposed to do? I wasn’t getting any of the admin jobs I was applying for and I needed some form of stimulation and outside interaction. I was 25, living at my parent’s place and splitting my dole money between paying my career development loan and paying travel costs to get to this internship. The really frustrating thing was the fact they didn’t even offer to pay for travel. I lasted 3 months and became very, very unhappy.

Increasing frustrations (shouting at the tv, becoming too bitter and cynical to read the newspapers, etc.), led me to start a development consultancy business, because I needed to do SOMETHING of value. And, I’d rather intern for myself than for someone else. And shortly after starting this, I was offered 3 months of private, well paid teaching work.

I then started what was effectively internship number 6 in May. This was done from home and involved editing work. It did involve one trip to London earlier in the year, which, of course, they didn’t offer to cover the travel for. I’ve received criticism from senior staff, too, and there has been a complete lack of guidance throughout. But, it looks good on the CV (which is all that matters for us desperate grads, right?)

So now… it’s October and last week I received news that I’ve been selected to go and work abroad for, yes, you guessed it… internship numero 7! Fortunately, they provide accommodation, a small stipend and food. Sadly, this means the money I saved from teaching over the summer will just about cover my career development loan for the six month period. It also means I won’t be able to come home for my best friend’s wedding… and, perhaps even worse, I’ll be 26 and still an intern (DOOM!)

Yes, I’ve done a lot and have quite a packed CV. But, it’s really not fair. Having your work consistently undervalued and it made me lose alot of confidence in myself and caused me to become very depressed. Sadly I know people in all too familiar situations who, like me, feel that we’ve been somehow cheated and are perpetually left out of an unjust and unfair system. It makes you want to scream…

Shocking scenes in one firm of Solicitors

I was presented with the opportunity to do an (unpaid) internship with a self-employed solicitor renting office space in a small-ish law firm, with the chance of gaining a position within this firm. While I gained invaluable experience during my 6 months there, full time, there were times when I considered giving up on a legal profession altogether. I should add that I wouldn’t consider myself a rich kid, having to take on extra, 10 hour shifts at a second job on both Saturdays and Sundays, and study on the Legal Practice Course (which I later had to defer due to stress) at the same time.  Cue illness and having to take some days off my ‘job’, leading the senior partner to question my ability and motivation. To be fair, the majority of the staff were quite welcoming, although a bit wary of any newcomers in a climate where the partners constantly ‘touched upon’ the recession and fired staff.  However, some of the employees were outright rude, expecting me to carry out ‘runner’ duties like buying new light bulbs for the office, and re-deferring their own duties to me.

I finally got the hint when, having been asked to cover 2 weeks for the receptionist in the immigration department (who wasn’t paid for holiday leave), and having been congratulated for doing a much better job than her by all the other staff, I wasn’t paid anything (saving the firm 2 weeks of wages!) or even given a thank you, and thereby abandoned my first venture into the legal field.  The boiling point was when a caseworker who had made an appointment with a new immigration client, whose deadline for appeal was the next day, fell ill and couldn’t meet the client. Having attempted to refer the case to the most senior solicitor present, I was rudely told that he couldn’t do anything, and I was left to explain to a client seeking asylum who had very little chance of finding a new representative AND file his appeal on the same day that we couldn’t help him. I couldn’t understand how the same unqualified, inexperienced intern whose ability and motivation were questioned by the senior partner was placed in such a position. Out of spite, I did add that the client was welcome to report the firm to the relevant legal body!

How’s about this for a good internship?

I wanted to share my experience of internships, for once it’s positive!

My story: after a period of indecision over my future following University along with lots of travelling abroad, I got an internship working for a group of public sector bodies. To give you an overview, they wanted to compile a report looking at how the region could adapt to the effects of climate change (increased flooding, higher temperatures, higher rainfall etc). They could’ve hired an environmental consultant who would’ve cost ££££, instead they wanted to help graduates get some experience, so they got 3 interns in.

I was given a set project: researching and writing case studies for the report over a 5 month period on 15 hrs a week (ed: this works out about 10 quid an hour). In return I got industry contacts, constant support, career advice, free training, goals for the project and they let me lead on organising a workshop for victims of flooding. What was even better was they paid me £3,000 for the whole thing and I worked from home, keeping costs down.

My view is we both got a lot of this arrangement. They got a solid piece of work at a low price and I got not just a job, but a career: I’ve since gone on to get full time employment in the climate change and environmental field off the back of this work.

It’s a fascinating area to work in and I’d never have thought of it as a potential role for me if it weren’t for this internship. Support, a small salary and supervision over a short time period is all graduates need, it’s not difficult. I want to encourage employers to see that internships can be incredibly productive for both parties; they just need to stop thinking that they can exploit the good will, hard work and knowledge of young people looking for a start in their lives.



Interns Anonymous

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