One issue that’s cropped up in the news very recently is the issue of unpaid work experience and internships. The Institute for Public Policy Research (IPPR) has called for an end to such unfair practices, which are particularly widespread in the culture/entertainment industries. As Kayte Lawton from the IPPR put it:
“We have a culture where lots of sectors are relying on unpaid work and that is just not fair, both for those who have to do the work and those who do not get the opportunities, so we need a big culture shift.”
The new Universities Minister David Willetts has echoed this, expressing his concern that expecting students and graduates to work without getting paid discriminates against the less privileged. He says that the government will look into this matter.
I am personally in two minds about it. As a teacher, I am acutely aware of the difficult realities facing students and graduates in the current context of Higher Education and the employment market. I am very concerned that those who are less well off are less likely to be able to (literally) afford to get a foot in the door, be that the door to a career in film, television or theatre. I myself was very lucky when I was an undergraduate student that I managed to find work experience in the TV industry that was paid, and quite generously too. I remember that my boss back then had the attitude that ‘if someone works for you, you should value them’. Having said that, my former boss was financially secure enough to be able to afford paying students for their valuable work.
This brings me to why I am in two minds about it. Kayte Lawton from the IPPR further states:
“We need the big employers to lead the way on this because they have the resources and power to pay interns and make sure they have good working conditions.”
My concern is with the small independent production companies and theatres that might well not have the money to pay for work experience. If the government decides to change things, then this would lead to potentially very serious pressure on those independents, and I am concerned what the implications of this pressure would be. Would they reduce the number of work experience places offered? Could the independents survive without them? And what about the students?
I do not have ready answers for any of these questions. Perhaps the real question is to ask why it is that such an important sector of the British economy is so reliant on unpaid labour. But that is another question I shall leave unanswered.
You can read more about this on the BBC news page http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/business/10243481.stm.