When Westminster School came up with the idea to auction off 22 prestigious internships at some of the top companies in England it probably thought this charitable effort would be applauded. After all, the £600 a pop bids is to raise thousands to repair school buildings and for bursaries for pupils whose parents cannot afford the full fees.
The auction is instead being criticised for giving privileged children – whose parents can afford to pay hundreds or thousands of pounds for an internship at a top bank such as Coutts.
But surely there is another much more fundamental point that we believe has been overlooked. These internships are to run for just a week or two and as such offer insufficient time for a 6th former to pick up any meaningful experience, skill or knowledge.
Have we lost sight of the purpose of an internship? Isn’t the purpose of an internship to help a person develop the vital experience they need to get a job?
A couple of years ago the Conservatives were criticised for a black and white fundraiser where week-long internships at top companies were sold for £2000 and £3000 each to raise cash for the party. So the practice of wealthy parents paying for their son or daughter to get experience isn’t uncommon, but it is a waste of their money if all that the graduate receives is a week shadowing some lawyer or MP.
These are not proper internships. A 6th former would gain more from electing to do some volunteer work instead. At least then they would learn about important stuff such as teamwork and communication – which develop the real values employers seek. A graduate would gain experience that they could actually list on their CV. Graduates need knowledge of how an organisation works and how to get on. And you don’t have to pay anything to get that.
In the US, just a few months ago, the Robert F. Kennedy Center for Justice and Human Rights charity fundraiser attracted a bid of $22,000 for an internship at the UN.
It may be way beyond what most can afford to pay but at least the length of the internship was for six weeks, sufficient opportunity for the intern to pick up the type of skills and knowledge that can be of some use to his or her career once the internship is over.
Most people agree that the purpose of an internship is to help a person get the experience they need to kick-start their career, and that is something that we should not lose sight of.
No doubt the present campaign to end the practice of unpaid internships, and to ensure people are paid at least the minimum wage, will succeed, and so it should. Every graduate should be able to have the opportunity to get the experience they need after leaving university.
At Graduate Coach we only offer paid internships so that the people we coach can focus on building really valuable skills and experience, get their career off the ground and have their contribution to the company, even as they learn, recognised as it should be.