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Would you pay to do an internship?

by on May 8, 2015

There has been much debate about the issues of unpaid internships becoming part of the early career landscape across a wide range of occupations.  Indeed, party policies about limiting these became a topic during the recent UK election campaign and the campaign group Intern Aware recently made headlines handing HRMC a list of 100 companies who might be breaking existing regulations on unpaid internships.  As the Guardian reported: “While companies are free to offer work experience, where this ends up amounting to a job – for example if hours and duties are set and the position lasts for a long time – companies are breaking employment laws if they do not pay at least the minimum wage. Aside from the illegality, critics say the use of long-term, unpaid positions as an entry point to popular professions in effect excludes those without well-off parents or other means to support themselves.”

Today however the Financial Times reports a worrying new trend – recent graduates PAYING to do an internship overseas under the headline, ‘Young, Bright, Paying to Work Overseas’.  They report that companies are paying students to arrange these internships citing CRCC Asia who charge up to £3,495 for three months in China and City Internships, who charge £2,750 to £5,150 at companies in London, Hong Kong, New York and Los Angeles.  This firm focuses on finance, legal and media internships – areas that have long been criticized for exploiting new entrants.  City Internships claim that they “provide an immersive experience” and it is unclear from the website how much of the cost is passed to the ‘host’ organisations.  Interestingly their website has a section for parents and is clearly assuming that it is they that will be stumping up the not inconsiderable cost for their children.

The emergence of pay-to-intern seems to mark a worrying extension of the ‘free-intern’ practice that has emerged in recent years since it narrows the number of opportunities for new entrants (whatever their age or financial status).  I can only hope that like other ‘paid for’ opportunities that people add to their CV  that prospective employers will ask the right questions and give credit to those who pursue other forms of work experience. (It was a stint in MacDonald’s in my student days.)  As Intern Aware’s Ben Lyons tells the Financial Times, respectable firms should steer well clear of this new pay-to-intern trend.

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