Unpaid intern, volunteer, worker, apprentice – is the system fair..?
At Boom Solutions Ltd, we set our rates and prices to allow us to pay fair wages, fair taxes and produce quality work. However, there is no doubt that unpaid internships and voluntary roles in return for experience are especially prevalent in the creative sector. Is this fair or does it amount to exploitation, and as some argue, create a barrier to social mobility and reduce diversity in the industry?
If you are looking to get a start in our industry, and you cannot afford to work for free for a prolonged period of time, what are your options?
There is a big difference between work experience, volunteering for a good cause, giving your time and labour in exchange for training/mentoring for a short time versus actually performing a role that should be a paid one. Coming in for two weeks week experience, a month-long unpaid internship and indefinite unpaid volunteering and internships are not the same thing.
There are ethical companies out there so do not be afraid to check what is expected of you, what training and support you will receive, what environment you will be placed and in what real prospects in terms of salary you have with them, and importantly, when. Check out apprenticeships too, there are some fabulous ones on offer. We have taken apprentices on and it has worked really well for both them and us! Two of our apprentices went on the full-time jobs with us and we also employed another member of staff on the back of an apprenticeship completed elsewhere.
If you have unpaid options on the table, ask yourself, and them – will you be a useful, commercial part of the company? Will they benefit financially from the work that you do and the time that you spend there? If you are to be working as a valuable cog in a company wheel, do the same as a paid employee elsewhere, is it really fair to ask you to work for free, and if so, for how long?
Working as an unpaid intern is sold as a way to acquire skills and experience on the job that is arguably valuable to the intern. This may well be true, but does this exchange of labor for experience really warrant no wages at all? Partly given that it could be argued this favors a wealthier demographic who may have parents or family who can support them whilst they work unpaid.
Although roughly 80% of unpaid internships are in London, they are on the rise across the UK. There is currently something of a back lash against their use, as some believe that they are a way for companies to exploit young, (in general), people for free labour. In parliament, there is cross party consensus on looking to ban all unpaid internships that last longer than a month, something which is backed by the Sutton Trust, (see link below), who see them as a barrier to social mobility.
There are actually current laws governing unpaid internships, and if you feel you’re in an role similar to a paid one, you have similar tasks to a person who is paid and your internship is over an unspecified time frame, this can be reported – there are cases of people being refunded for their work, long after the event!
Volunteer roles are also common, particularly in the charity sector. However, as with internships, the bottom line is, according to the law, people who can be classed as workers must be paid at least the National Minimum Wage or the National Living Wage and a worker might be someone who has a contract or is subject to sanctions if they do not turn up for work.
Don’t sell yourself short.
We work with apprentices, offer short work experience placements and on the job roles for people with talent, a great work ethic, but no formal qualifications. We do not take unpaid interns.
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