Archive for the 'Nepotism' Category

A little light slavery never did anyone any harm

Charmingly entitled ‘A little slavery does us all good’, Julia Margo’s article in the Sunday Times, 15th August, sets out the reasons why she thinks we need to increase the number of unpaid internships on offer, rather than get companies to pay their interns. She also entertains us by telling us about the time when she, an erstwhile intern, rocked up to work in a law firm wearing a crop top. Reading the article, I found myself overwhelmed by the quality of prose and incisive analysis on offer but I have to admit the following section is my out and out favourite:

‘While I count myself lucky to have been able to benefit from the inspiring work experience I had, policy wonks are immersed in debate about whether unpaid interns are in fact being exploited. To explore that claim, I spoke to one of the 450 unpaid interns who work in parliament: she said she had gained a lot and didn’t feel exploited at all.’

Oh wow, you spoke to one intern? And she didn’t feel exploited? Thank God for that, now we can be sure that no other interns anywhere in the world feel or are exploited. Obviously I don’t want to be associated with the ‘policy wonks’ (by the way Julia is Acting Director of the think-tank Demos, which is there to do what exactly? Policy wonk.) – but I would like to draw Ms Margo’s attention to the views of the more-than-one-intern who have emailed us and taken our surveys in the past two years. The following are a selection of quotes from our inexperienced, crop top wearing and, let’s be honest, moronic interns:

‘I feel the internship system in the UK is hardly human anymore’

‘I am now cold towards politics as a career’

‘it should be made illegal’

‘the company I worked for were making people redundant and stuffing interns into their positions’

‘I took the internship on the understanding that I would get a job but three months in it is clear that neither me nor the three interns I work with are going to be employed’

‘I learnt new skills but 5 months without pay and 2 months unemployed have made life pretty difficult’

‘this was a sad waste of time’

‘this is the worst thing I have done in my life! I work a 60 hour week, I am petrified of my boss who calls me lazy but I love parliament and I don’t want to quit in case it makes me look bad’

‘it was an utter waste of time’

‘I am sick of this shit’

OK you get the picture.

This isn’t to say that some internships don’t provide skills and don’t allow people to settle into a good work ethic but it saddens me to see unpaid work supported so whole heartedly by someone who should be able to see that economically, socially and even- dare I say it- morally, asking or expecting or allowing people to work for free is wrong.

Turning down the violin soundtrack and ignoring the yelps of bitter, resentful interns- from a practical standpoint work that doesn’t pay can only ever be a stopgap, it solves a problem in the short term, a bit like getting the Dutch kid who used his hand to stem a leak in a dyke to stand there forever instead of getting help. The kid’s arm would get tired and eventually Holland would be in a worse situation.

Let’s look at one of the main problems that internships are supposed to solve:

How do we solve youth unemployment in this country?

Encourage growth, more jobs.

I know I know it’s not as simple as that (maybe it is) but internships DO NOT get people jobs- they, in the words of a particularly witty intern, ‘prove that you’re not in prison’. Jobs get people jobs. Our survey of 249 interns found that 82% of them did not get a job in the organization they interned with. Frankly, we all know what the problem is- there are not enough jobs- we need to look at this issue straight in the eye, like Crocodile Dundee would look at a raging buffalo. Graduates are not getting as many jobs as they should because there are not enough jobs, NOT because they are particularly stupid, under-experienced or crop-top wearing.

You thought I was going to shut up now but it turns out I’m not. Here is another great bit from Julia’s article:

‘The best way to ruin opportunities for thousands of graduates would be to insist that internships are paid. Employers would simply offer fewer placements if they had to pay — they already invest a fair amount of staff time in them. Worse, paying interns would pollute the whole process and ultimately lead to internships being conflated with entry-level jobs, thus excluding exactly the kind of fresh graduates who benefit most from the opportunities. Who would pay a useless graduate when you can hire a recession-hit 25-year-old? I once worked in an organisation that paid its interns. As a result, we recruited through a formal process and took only those with prior experience.

 Re-e-wind:

Paying interns would pollute the whole process and ultimately lead to internships being conflated with entry level jobs’. But wait! Hold up! The trouble is, internships are already being conflated with entry-level jobs. So now they’re entry-level jobs without pay. I don’t normally approve of using one person’s experience as evidence of a general trend but what the hell, if Julia does it, so can I: ‘the company I worked for were making people redundant and stuffing interns into their positions’- said one of the interns who took our survey. 

And now my to address my particular bugbear, slagging off shitty graduates who can’t even make a bloody coffee for god’s sake:

Who would pay a useless graduate when you can hire a recession-hit 25-year-old?

Perhaps a company which, as well as not expecting a 25 year old with commensurate experience to take an entry-level job, would also like to invest in its employees, build up their skills base and create a competent, non-resentful workforce. I guess this is about principles and maybe a little bit about old-school Cadbury’s style corporate paternalism. 

Graduates may be depressingly eager to submit to whatever crap the government and the winds of fate throw at them (top up fees, more top up fees, internships, house prices higher than the moon) but they are not useless. Funnily enough, several paid interns we have talked to report a far better learning experience and a far more positive outcome for both them and the employer. Employers have also noticed an improvement in the quality of their intern’s work when they pay them: this is partly for obvious reasons (money grabbing graduates are only happy, effective workers when they can buy booze and drugs) and partly because employers care about money, so if they are spending it, they will make sure they teach the intern what they need to know, give the intern clear tasks or projects and help the intern throughout this process.

I once worked in an organisation that paid its interns. As a result, we recruited through a formal process and took only those with prior experience.

The experience conundrum is a difficult one but to pretend that it doesn’t apply to internships as well as jobs is madness. Let me take a look at w4mp, artsjobs, charity jobs and see if I can find an internship that demands experience. Oh look! I found two that specifically demand experience, here and here. The second organisation would like ‘someone with experience and/or a good understanding of the legal business, preferably with a law degree, interested in improving their understanding about the global legal community and to develop relationships in the industry’. And you can safely bet money that the huge demand for internships mean that despite a lack of explicit demand for experience, you will need experience to stick out from the crowd, unless of course your boyfriend’s mate works for a national newspaper.

‘The 2010 “non-graduate talent pool” (made up of 50% of the youth population) is, of course, extremely unlikely to find any work experience at all. But the government offers basic skills training to help them find rubbish jobs stacking boxes, so that’s okay.’

I am not one to stick up for government policy so why change the habit of a lifetime: patently two wrongs do not make a right. Unemployed school-leavers are facing the same conditions as the rest of us- this doesn’t mean I support the promotion of unpaid internships for graduates. Once again I am going to be incredibly demanding- jobs for all of us! All of us! We all want jobs and we want them now!

Now, I don’t pretend to be Miss Popularity but at least I know more people than Ms Margo who has never met anyone who cannot afford to work for nothing:

‘I have yet to meet a graduate who genuinely cannot afford to work for nothing: sleep on a friend’s floor and work in a bar in the evening, for goodness’ sake.’

In 5 seconds I can think of at least 5 people I know very well who wouldn’t have been able to afford an internship for more than a month, and I am not sure whether my parents (in my case, London based) would have been up for 5 of my friends sleeping on the sofa, for goodness’ sake! (By the way if you put a quaint expression of exasperation at the end of the sentence, people are more likely to suck it up and believe what you say) Also can I just ask why pubs should constantly be supporting graduates through their career search?

Thousands of graduates do this without complaint. As for non-graduates and those from poorer families, these are excluded not by cost but by the snobbery of employers.

Finally something I semi-agree with. But I can assure you that people are excluded from internships as a result of their cost and not living in London, as well as by the  snobbery of employers. The existence of one excluding factor does not preclude the existence of the other. Mind blowing, I know.

‘While debate rages on over whether unpaid interns are exploited or lucky, there is no question as to whether employers benefit: our economy is now secretly running on intern power. What we actually need to do is to increase the number of internships being offered, rather than make companies pay.’

If the economy is indeed secretly running on intern power (well it’s not such a secret in the case of Demos- the think-tank which Julia is currently directing) then what does that say about our society? That we value our young people so poorly we demand that they work for free, something that is anathema to most sane people; that whilst praying for the economy to grow, we are actively stunting it by restricting ‘thousands’ to a pittance that they will then spend on…Sainsbury’s basics beans? Just what is the point of increasing the number of internships when all that would lead to is graduates having to step up the number of internships they did to stand out? By increasing the expectation of unpaid work, all you do is discourage paid work, which is- let’s not forget- one of the pillars of a successful economy.

What do you think? Have I gone crazy or is Julia Margo crazy? (Judge for yourself- when we have sorted out rights and posted the article- Sunday Times needs a subscription and we don’t want to make them mad).

It’s not what you know…

Here everyone is mostly concerned about interns having to work for free. Well, frankly, I don’t mind it at all. Not that my financial situation is amazing- it is actually rather awful. I just think when there is a will, there is a way – one can always work evenings and weekends to pay the bills. Working 2 jobs is, of course, never easy, but the experience you get from the internship is worth it.

I don’t mind that interns have to spend quite a share of their time on administrative duties. No one gets fancy degrees thinking they will be printing out hand outs or staffing envelopes, but it is the rule of the game and you’ve got to learn to respect it and try to get something positive from it.

What I do mind though is something that I don’t see discussed too often in the Media – the tremendous role of “glass ceiling” involved in securing the internship…

Continue reading ‘It’s not what you know…’

Quit your bellyaching

 Like many of our generation, I have taken the route of an internship with a Member of Parliament. There are some interesting responsibilities, press releases, case work etc. Then there are the usual pitfalls; the lack of direction in the office mainly. One of the key problems for interns is that those directly responsible for them often forget that the principle reason for you being there is to increase your skills. Often the lines are blurred between Bob, the unpaid intern who is here for the benefit of his career, learning essential skills for public affairs, and Bob, the office lackey who is here (almost literally) to sweep up after us. To a negligent supervisor, recently graduated university students often do seem to be there to do unpaid grunt work. When you’re on the receiving end of it, it is practically sickening.

 It can leave you with a feeling of intense resentment towards the world of public affairs and media, which thrives on this practise and often ostracises outsiders.

 Whilst undertaking this internship I have been reading The Triumph of the Political Class by Peter Oborne. I don’t think I could have picked a worse book to cement these feelings of bitterness.

 “As they professionalized and grew more homogenous the Political and Media Classes began to restrict membership to the middle classes, and increasingly to each other’s sons and daughters. This was in large part because of the special pay structure of the Media/Political Class. Though stars in both arenas were capable of making very large sums of money indeed, new graduates are impoverished. A young researcher reporting to an MP, or a television producer starting out, are both extremely poorly paid. They are, however, expected to work in Central London, which is prohibitively expensive and only possible with subsidy from well heeled parents”

 The whole of the public affairs and media domain is made possible by backhanders, press leaks, favourable stories and a slimy mutability between actors serving themselves and their friends. Even my university’s careers page recommends the practise of ‘networking’ in order to progress in this arena. The story goes that Peter Mandelson got his big break in the world of politics by offering a cup of tea to a senior Labour figure who missed his train. Upon the Minister seeing Mandelsons’ poster of him on his bedroom wall, the young prince of darkness’s fate was sealed. Am I expected to hang around London with a hot coffee in my hand, waiting for a stray Milliband needing some refreshment to pluck me out of my provincial nightmare?

mandy

I wonder which lucky bastard bought this for him

 The underlying request amongst most users of interns anonymous is that these internships should be regulated with a statutory minimum pay. This might seem like the reasonable thing to do when so many of us are suffering at the hands of that amorphous tentacled monster in London. However, as media and public affairs have been professionalized, certain principles have slipped. Our constitution is gradually eroding and our reporting remains as unreliable as it was during the yellow press period of Hearst’s America. The prospect of increasing the regulatory powers of the state sector and paying interns in the media will only entrench these problems or create further negative consequences.

Continue reading ‘Quit your bellyaching’

Internships: The rich and well connected – A Case Study of Euan Blair

Subject: Euan Anthony Blair

Profile: The son and heir of the former British Prime Minister, Tony Blair

Future big shot

Future big shot

To quote Wikipedia:

“He is known principally for being found inebriated in Leicester Square as a teenager, having a flat purchased by his mother for use while a student at Bristol University and having his appendix removed.”

After graduating with an unspectacular 2:1 in Ancient History from Bristol in 2005, the typical graduate life of struggle and drudgery did not befall Euan. The money and connections kicked in.

In 2005, he spend two months interning at a French radio station owned by France’s richest man, Bernard Arnault – a sometime private guest of the Prime Minister at his country house, Chequers.

A year later he landed another internship working for Republican politicians in Washington DC.

“The former Prime Minister’s son spent his time making photocopies and helping to set up hearings for the committee – ‘just general intern-type duties’, according to a spokesman.”

I am sure having the surname ‘Blair’ was no help at all. After another few weeks interning for Democrats, Euan left to pursue an MA… but not just any MA, an MA at Yale with a scholarship of £50,000.

This came as some surprise to other Yale students, who had no recollection of such a grant being made to a postgraduate before, particularly one with an unspectacular 2: 1 in ancient history. Maybe it was the internships that swayed it?

And now what for our well connected friend? He is about to begin a 30grand graduate traineeship with Morgan Stanley, where his father’s former right-hand man, Jonathan Powell, is a top executive.

Employers should train us, not demand intern experience

I’ve done loads of stuff. I’ve interviewed the British energy minister, evaluated an human rights organisation’s entire year of work for senior directors, written a scoop on the U.S. attorney general and his views on Guantanamo prisoners, worked in Siberia, set up a citywide youth organisation, run a graduate recruitment scheme and taken a TV crew to London Fashion Week. And I’ve done it all for paid jobs – I’ve been lucky and landed some great work. 

 

Continue reading ‘Employers should train us, not demand intern experience’


Interns Anonymous

We want this website to be a forum for interns to share their experiences and discuss the ethics of unpaid employment. Most importantly, we want this site to be a place where YOU can tell us your story.

Disclaimer

Interns Anonymous accept no responsibility for the contents of the blog, comments or any other content on this site that is posted or provided by third parties. This website is designed to act as a forum for interns to share experiences and opinions about their work, therefore, we will not censor opinions we do not agree with. The opinions stated in blog contributions do not represent those of Interns Anonymous. We disclaim all liability for such content to the fullest extent permitted by law. If you have any queries please email us.

Enter your email address to subscribe to this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.

Join 118 other followers


Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 118 other followers

%d bloggers like this: