“It’s who you know, not what you know”

26 October, 2017

Does your company hire unpaid interns or take on interns through informal channels?

In light of the increasing opposition towards unpaid internships, your company ought to consider its approach and current practices surrounding such internships – both in terms of remuneration and accessibility.

Employers that take on unpaid interns should be aware that MP’s are preparing to debate a bill preventing unpaid internships lasting more than a month. It is unclear whether the bill will be passed given that last year a similar proposal was blocked. Regardless of the outcome, employers ought to evaluate their current practices and consider the potential benefits of a change in policy.

A Social Mobility Commission report highlights that a third of today’s graduate interns are unpaid; yet, increasingly, graduates are being forced into unpaid internships as a vehicle towards securing their dream jobs. The report argues that not only are these practices exploitative, but they discriminate on the basis of wealth rather than talent. The current system favours affluent graduates who are subsidised by families during the unpaid internship enabling them to work for free. Individuals from less advantaged backgrounds, however, cannot afford to work unpaid and are confronted by the ‘class ceiling’.

The report alleges that the current system restricts those without family connections. Typically, internship posts are gained through family contacts, rather than through a formal, fair and transparent application process. The report addresses the need for employers to publicly advertise vacancies and recruit on the basis of talent in order to gain a diverse range of applicants.

Employers currently enjoy the benefit of hiring unpaid interns as there is a constant supply of willing and able graduates. Perhaps, however, companies ought to consider the advantages of a different policy. Three significant advantages include:

  • Inclusivity and diversity within the company
  • Ability to select more talented and motivated interns (via the application process) who are more likely to have a positive and lasting impact on the company
  • Enhanced reputation

Initial concerns to employers will be the extra costs in terms of wages and time spent sifting through applications, but these concerns may be outweighed by the long term value and benefit to the company and to society as a whole.

If you require any employment law advice, please contact Rhona Darbyshire on 01892 506085 or rhona.darbyshire@crippspg.co.uk