After interning, Lauren set up a campaign…what a great idea!
My name is Lauren Briggs and I’m a third year Fashion Communication student at Northumbria University. It can be quite daunting to be faced with graduation this year when Fashion is known to be one of the most notorious industries for exploiting interns. The demand for work experience today is probably at the highest it’s ever been and I’m soon to be catapulted straight into the frantic internship system.
I’ve already dipped my toe into the industry as an intern. My one-month unpaid placement within the press office of a well-known high street brand opened my eyes to the real problems of internships.
Although my experience was an enjoyable and worthwhile one, the tasks set out to me were essential to the company and would have been carried out by a paid employee if I had not been present. I believe I should have been paid for the work I was doing. The travel expenses the company provided me and my own savings were just about enough to fund my month in London. Unfortunately therefore, I could not carry out the second placement I was recommended for by my supervisor at the time with a very well known PR company. This placement would have improved my CV considerably and perhaps led to a job opportunity.
The company I was with took on two or three interns every four weeks to carry out a list of day-to-day duties that were essential to the business. I worked alongside two other interns who, like me, were trying to get as much experience listed on their C.V.’s as possible and had already made their way through three or four internships in the past year. I asked them how they could afford to intern for so long without any pay and they both replied, “I can’t!”.
Another thing I discovered whilst I was interning was the difference in respect I received. The employees I worked alongside in the office were all very lovely and treated me very well, however as soon as you are introduced to members of staff outside the office as “the intern”, you’re somehow immediately relegated to so many things – unnoticed, unimportant and unnecessary. It is understandable why the majority of people look at interns in this way; perhaps because we are there to learn and experience the industry and therefore carry no importance or relevance to the paid members of staff working hard at their paid jobs, however interns often work just as hard, if not harder than some paid employees. Think about it, interns are constantly trying to impress and forever trying to stand out and therefore get the job done to the absolute best of their ability.
The feedback I received from an anonymous intern in my own research on the subject validates this. She was working at a very well known fashion house alongside 11 other interns. There were only 6 members of paid staff. The interns worked 12 hour shifts with a half an hour break whilst the paid staff often went home hours earlier. The jobs the interns were given were more demanding, more essential to the designer and made up the majority of the workload.
I’ve heard the same kind of story from so many interns across the UK and I’m eager to see change. The action taken by HM Revenue & Customs is the first step towards change, but I hope this move will advance further and influence other industries to pay their interns.
My own experience as an intern has inspired me to start my own campaign, The Internship Project, www.theinternshipproject.com. The main aim of the campaign is to promote the enforcement of the National Minimum Wage and work primarily with interns, students, graduates and young people to make internships fairer. The campaign launches on the 16th February 2012 and I hope that I can gather as much support as possible to really make a difference.