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Are Internships taking advantage of us?

Words by: Abi Purvis. Photo by: Vlada Karpovich for Pexels.

Are internships an excuse for businesses to get work done for a fraction of the price, or are they beneficial? After finishing degrees, or looking for summer work, many students try out an internship. Internships are often sold as a no brainer; it offers you some (sometimes) paid work experience, and it sounds great on CV’s.

Forbes says, “People come to internships for all kinds of reasons and the fact that they have sought out this opportunity to begin with shows drive and ambition.”

“Completing internships increases jobs offers by 16%. Students who accomplished at least one internship received an average of 1.17 job offers”, says Compare Camp.

But you do run the risk of being exploited.

Employers know how desperate people are to attain these internships — especially now of all times, thanks to the good ol’ COVID. That’s when the danger zone can start to appear. Some employers may recognise that they can assign someone short term, at a little to no wage to get work done. And when students and graduates work so hard to get their hands-on internships, the usual boundaries of pay and workload tasks can be blurred so we need to be careful when we are on the look out for internships.

For me, internships have been a worthwhile experience. They gave me an insight into the sector and field of work I want to explore whilst gaining valuable experience – of which will undoubtedly help me to locate a job in what is a minefield of a job market.

I was lucky that the University of Plymouth offered a paid internship scheme, the iMayflower Virtual Internships , which paired graduates with local businesses for short-term paid projects.

This ensured that students and graduates were truly valued for their skills and experience, and supporting culture change in this area. The scheme focuses on being mutually beneficial and gave me a blueprint for how to manage future experiences. Schemes such as this are set against the backdrop of a recent European Parliament vote that confirmed unpaid internships are; “a form of exploitation of young people’s work and a violation of their rights” Perhaps it is only a matter of time before unpaid, exploitative experiences are banned, but what should students and graduates do right now?

Look for paid internships

If the company is fairly established, you should expect a wage. You are working hard, doing what everyone else there is paid to be doing so you should be paid too. “The graduate careers expert asked nearly 9,000 16 to 25 year olds about the types of work they had undertaken. While 48% had undertaken an unpaid internship, just 17% had been paid for their work experience,”  says Onrec.

Start-up companies often can get away with not paying you and justify it by the fact that they aren’t yet receiving profits. But, if a business is expecting to do well and you are aiding them to achieve this glory, surely your services are a worthwhile investment?

Alternatively, it is expensive setting up a business so perhaps they cannot afford your help, good work experience and a reference and testimonial is worth it. Indeed, a job site, says “Testimonials can be a powerful tool for appealing to potential customers.” If you are working for free, it really is the least they can do so don’t be afraid to ask for one.

Avoid unpaid ‘extended experience’

I’ve heard this happen far too often. At the end of an internship some interns have been offered an unpaid placement as extended experience, to ‘benefit’ your work searching. This loosely translates as ‘Let me persuade you into working for free rather than paying you to carry on the great work you’ve been doing’. If they see value you in you, they really should be paying you. If this happens to you, it is important to know your worth and when you stop getting equal value out of the opportunity; either ask to be paid if they want to continue using your services, or look elsewhere.

Avoid ‘Would you mind doing this again?’

When achieving the position of an internship your employer should set out some agreements with you on what you both want to get out of your role. Hold them to it. If there is something you want to do, and gain experience in, make sure you get to do it — you are taking up the opportunity to learn something and embellish your skills.

Especially if you are only at the firm for a short period of time, don’t let them diminish the chances they offered you when selling the role. It is an opportunity to you and they should deliver on their word. To avoid this issue, at the beginning of the internship, lay out your expectations of what you want to get out of the internship. This will help see that you get the opportunities to do it.

Where are good places to look for internships?

I was lucky that the University of Plymouth offered a paid iMayflower virtual internship scheme that partnered graduates with local businesses to encourage students and graduates to be valued for their skill and experience. Some other good places to look are; Graduate site like Graduate South West, or established businesses like Penguin who organise paid work experience and internships every year and emphasize the skills you will learn. When you are searching just make sure it ticks some of your boxes; don’t just do it because you need experience on your CV. Make sure you’re going to learn something, get paid, get a great testimonial out of it, or you can build up a great work portfolio out of it. Your time and efforts are valuable to employers and they should recognise that you need something out of it too.

If you don’t feel like you’re getting something; ask.

Internships really are a fantastic opportunity to learn new things, develop skills, gain some genuine experience, and test the waters of a future career. Make sure it is a worthwhile experience, for both you and your employer, and that your hard work is rightly appreciated. You are valuable and skillful, please don’t underestimate yourself. Most importantly, enjoy yourself and enjoy exploring something new!

#dosanddonts #graduate #intern #internships

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