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The grey area of student internships

by on May 28, 2014

Over the holiday weekend I caught up with my nephew who is currently looking for an internship in the area of games software development for the 3rd year of his 4 year undergraduate degree.

He had an eyebrow-raising tale of an interview with one organization where the interviewer, during a discussion about salary, suggested that my nephew would learn so much during the year’s internship that he should pay the company instead. Now this may have been a joke. But it worryingly harks back to the days when, for example, trainee solicitors (then called articled clerks) paid for the privilege of on-the-job training to become a solicitor.  This arrangement  was eventually abandoned not least because it prevented people from a range of socio-economic backgrounds from pursuing a career in law.

There’s been much discussion about the similar effect of internships but until now I hadn’t apreciated that those which are for less than a year and are linked to higher education courses are exempt from the minimum wage (see the Government summary of internship rights). And of course although the internship covers an academic year the actual employment is only for 48 weeks. Which does seem to leave students a bit exposed to rather unequal power relations during the pay negotiations as they are generally young with limited experience in these matters.

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