Just add one little word to an iconic beauty ad line and you’ve summed up the whole beauty ‘internship’ world including PR firms and magazines. Obviously, I can only speak for the beauty industry because that’s where I live, and it’s something I experience almost daily. There has been a lot of Twitter chat about internships, all sparked from a BBC2 programme asking who gets the best jobs.
I’ve got to question why anyone would go on national TV and admit to taking on an unpaid workforce when a recent report from the IPPR (Institute for Public Policy Research) finds the following:
- Employers mistakenly believe there is a ‘grey area’ around internships in the National Minimum Wage legislation and that they are allowed to take on unpaid interns so long as both sides know it is a voluntary position – but they are wrong. The law is in fact very clear and this is simply not the case.
- Many private sector organisations offer unpaid, expenses-only internships that almost certainly could not be described as ‘work experience’.
- Some surveys have found that only half of the organisations that use interns pay them at least the adult minimum wage. But just under a fifth of them (18%) pay no wage whatsoever, and just under a third (28%) pay less than the adult minimum wage.
- Talented but less well-off young people lose out on the chance to get really valuable experience in sectors seen as exciting – such as the media, fashion, publishing and advertising – because they cannot afford to take internships offering no or very low pay.”
So, the report says it better than I ever could, and I’ve visited the intern issue before on this blog, but still think it’s worth repeating that if you don’t give people a value, they feel worthless. It’s all very well suggesting that working for free will give young people a head-start in the beauty industry, but to be honest, interns are often treated like the tea-girl/boys dropped in at the deep end with no real guidance and a ‘you’re lucky to be here’ attitude.
Receiving emails from ‘Intern 1’ or ‘Intern 2’ is also commonplace…I find it deeply objectionable. I did once ask a company why they didn’t give their interns their own email address and was told it was ‘a bit complicated technically’. Interns need a lot of guidance – PRs doing the work don’t often have time to spend explaining things over and over to a steady stream of different faces – so I’d have to question the quality of some internships anyway. If they were paid employees, I’m sure it would feel more worthwhile to invest education time in them. And of course, interns are always young people, full of enthusiasm and desperate to make their way in an industry where there are more people than jobs. It seems heartbreaking to me that their very first introduction is one where they are not considered worth their bus fare home.
It’s not a ‘favour’ or a ‘privilege’ to work for nothing: if anything, interns are doing firms the favour by turning up at all under such circumstances. It goes without saying that unpaid internships rely on bank of mum and dad – but guess what? Some mums and dads just don’t have the funds that allow their bright, talented and enthusiastic kids to take up an internship. It’s a pity all round.
I’ll quickly make the point that a couple of weeks ‘work experience’ is a way, way different thing to a lengthy internship and gives young people an insight into office life or life in a certain industry.
I’d like to see a paid internship policy across the board in the beauty and fashion business. I said on Twitter that if you own a business, take fab holidays, eat out at amazing restaurants, drive a swanky car, love an expensive bag or a few jewelly things and you have an unpaid intern, shame on you, because not only is it morally questionable, you are also breaking the law.
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Excellent post! I totally agree that interns deserve to be paid! At the very very least companies should be forced to pay expenses so people from less well off backgrounds can afford to get their foot in the door.
Having said that, I’m 19 and I hope to work in journalism one day and I know that if I was offered a half decent internship, totally unpaid, in London (a £40 train fare from where I live) I would absolutely jump at the chance to take it as they are just so hard to get. It would mean working evenings just to cover the cost but the sad truth is I – and so many other people like me – simply have to accept this if we want to get anywhere. Which shows why its SO important for the goverment to take some sort of steps to sorting this out and forcing companies to pay – as the people looking for internships themselves don’t have the option to ask for better.
I love your blog by the way
This is really inspiring to see you writing about this and pushing for changes. I’m in my final year of university and I’m panicking about finding work (preferably in the beauty/fashion industry) once I’ve graduated. I’ve heard how difficult it is to get into this industry and it worries me that my only option would be to do an unpaid internship because I know that option is not feasible for me. The truth of the matter is that I will probably end up temping somewhere for a while in order to ‘fund’ said unpaid internship. I agree that even if the wage is minimal, interns should still be given a salary. Thanks for writing about this and I really do hope that things start to change soon.
Loving that your first commentators are interns/graduates. enjoyed tonights twitter debate and your post BBB. Give yourself the rest of the night (ha) off, its your birthday!!!
Fab post 🙂
Tricky times for young people.. I must confess I considered the option of employing a young graduate myself for kind of free, but as you say it is not ethical and long term it does not pay off. Having a policy to prevent this exploitation (it goes on all over the places) would be great, and I would also like to see a “policy” to help young people to give them clarity to find their passion and talents and to cultivate and develop that…
Hear, hear! I can vouch that the situation is virtually the same in the language services industry, it’s such a shame really that many young talented people are treated like nothing for all their hard work. Fab post as always, BBB 🙂 x
The whole concept of people working for free just baffles me.
I know very little about internship, having never gone that route myself (I stumbled into the beauty industry another way).
However, I’m well aware that they are unpaid, and are often as you say, little more than ‘get-me-fetch-me’ free staff.
The little bit that I can, and always do, is make sure that when I’ve been contacted by an intern, or had some dealings with one, is to make sure that my senior contacts at the PR agency are told that I’ve been ‘treated well’ or that the intern has provided a good service.
I know that there are more interns than jobs, and if my little personal ‘reference’ can make a difference in anyway, then its a step in the right direction.
Of course, if I get dodgy service, then I’ll let that be known too, but I would know matter who it was!
I doubt the practice is going to change anytime soon, there are too many who are prepared to work for free, and too many willing to exploit that, but from our point of view as journos, editors, bloggers who often come into frontline contact with them, maybe we can help promote recognition of interns who do good work.
I love that this issue is coming up, there is the same issue in the Arts sector. Some galleries/institutions require you to have an MA as well now, after 5 years of study and £25,000 in fees I don’t know many people in the position to then work for free, but it seems the only way. There are a few galleries, particularly the not for profit ones, who offer a 6 months paid internship. Its not loads of money buy any stretch of the imagination but it makes it possible to actually keep a flat going in London. Its the big commercial galleries who are the worst in my opinion. x
I live in a world where the beauty industry is so underdeveloped that there are no internships whatsoever. But if it takes other industries as an example, not only it will provide a very limited internship openings, but they will be also unpaid. Come to think of it, I’m right now doing an obligatory internship at a translation agency to complete my BA – no need to mention, it’s unpaid.
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Sorry, typo in original comment. Coffee hasn’t kicked in yet.
Not only are the internships unpaid, but you seem have to come from the “right” background to get one. Being a classless Canadian, it baffles me how a supposedly modern, G8 country continues to practice the prejudices of an outmoded system. We cannot achieve a “fair” society so long as you are accepted or dismissed based on social, economic or geographic yardsticks. Intelligence, talent and ability are not limited to one strata of society.
Well said! I agree with everything.
It’s just wrong.
Internships for any business should be planned, paid for and the person working given recognition for what they do! The chances are they will turn into the people you want to do business with or even employ at some point. You also should pick a cross section of people, not just those from the “right” background. Some of the best placements I have worked with have come from a totally different background which brings a fresh and challenging approach.
I agree with all your points!
Unfortuantely, tehre is still a lot of young men and women who have the financial back-up to do these internships. And they do.
That is why the industry does not need to pay.
There should be a regulation, laws – but this talk keeps going for years now and nothing changed. A lot of companies do rely on free internships (media, beauty) but tehse are also the billion makers, so they will make sure there won’t be a change.
I never made an internship – I cannot afford to work without wage. After being one year on/off a job I would do a lot of things, but I would not do an internship. I’d rather take my master and go cleaning. Just because I do not want to further support this.
Sadly this is going to continue for a while. Interns don’t even have a choice. There are so many of them trying so hard to build a port-folio is such a supersaturated industry that if one of them refused to work for free, a million others will and it becomes detrimental to that person who refused.
The organisations know this and they maximally exploit the interns. It is not just beauty/fashion, Interns everywhere are exploited this way.
The most likely solution, as you have rightly suggested, will be some kind of law/policy enforcement as the interns are powerless…
I agree with everything you have said wholeheartedly
It’s not just this area that is exploiting Interns I know of two businesses which have grown significantly over the last two years using free help while both owners are seen in the gossip columns living a very ostentatious lifestyle.
It’s probably worth mentioning that the NUJ, following a test case, is encouraging unpaid interns to sue for back pay at the miminum wage.
I’ve always wondered what happened to that law of paying interns minimum wage, as nothing seems to have changed in the media industry.
Often it’s the case that if you’re there in a company, you hear first about opportunities and have the advantage of potentially impressing and being employed.
Interns should always be helpful, but what happens when your duties go beyond the agreed terms of the internship? You feel obliged to be a team player even though it’s clear exploitation.
After taking many internships on the way to paid writing, I’d advise to get everything you can out of an internship and if it’s not working out after you’ve given it your all, move on!
I really value your words on such controversial and deep subjects such as this! Thank you so much. This was a topic I have been going over my head for such a long time!
I used the current financial climate as an excuse to my countless unpaid internships. Although this may be a factor are we taken advantage of? You have confirmed to me that we certainly are! I would be grateful right now even if I was just paid minimum wage.
Even as a volunteer I was made to sign a contract but some jobs offer nothing at all. We have rights and there does need to be policy.
Thank you! KK x
well said, I completely agree with you. In the UK apprenticeships are made to pay a minimum wage, what makes interships any different?
It just perpetuates the sad reality that the rich are getting richer and the poor getting poorer.- The rich, being the ones who are able to take the internships unpaid, which leads them to work their way up the ladder much faster to substantial financial sucess with more ease and speed.