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:

“why interns need a fair wage spells out how employers almost certainly break the law with interns. Unpaid internships are common in politics, media and the fashion industry and enable young people to get a head start in their career.
The report makes the following key points:
  • 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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