June 08, 2011
The explosion of the internship in the past 10 years has begun to raise some serious questions about the implications for a generation expected to work wage-free in order to move onto the career ladder.
Ross Perlin, an ex intern himself and the author of Intern Nation will be at the Frontline Club to take part in a panel discussion about internships and his investigation into a trend which, he argues, is destroying "what's left of the ordered world of training, hard work and fair compensation".
This issue was highlighted in early February when it was reported that a selection of prestigious internships at major City firms, media outlets and PR companies were auctioned off to party donors at the Conservatives' annual Black and White Party.
Are internships for the privileged, and to what extent are those professions where intern experience is compulsory now closed off young people from lower income families?
Or with no framework in place to protect their rights, is the internship a money-saving system for businesses, formalising the exploitation of young people by requiring them to do jobs that would otherwise be paid positions and work long hours without pay?
Join us at the Frontline Club to discuss the world of the intern and the culture of work. Book tickets here.
13 Norfolk Place
London, W2 1QJ
Ed Cumming reviews Intern Nation for the Telegraph, calling the book "well-researched and timely." Describing how work experience and internship culture has recently become politicised in Britain, Cumming suggests that both Britain and the United States are
[S]uffering an epidemic of unpaid labour. With graduates more abundant than ever, and graduate jobs ever scarcer, it has become near compulsory for young people entering the labour market to suffer a period of working for low pay or, often, for none at all...
Parliament is accused of “jaw-dropping hypocrisy” about its army of free workers, estimated to provide 18,000 hours of free labour per week...
Intern Nation contains plenty of lessons for Britain. It was interesting to note that Germany and Switzerland, both of which have recovered faster than Britain from the recession, have lower rates of internship and higher rates of traditional apprenticeship.
Anna Winter reviews Intern Nation by Ross Perlin for the Observer. Describing the book as a 'perspective study based on hard experience,' Winter focuses on how recent political focus on 'fairness' and social mobility is undermined by the institution of the internship, which promotes social injustice under the guise of widening opportunity:
The culture of unpaid work is troubling and complex but rarely subject to thorough scrutiny. American writer Ross Perlin's Intern Nation is a compelling investigation of a trend that threatens to destroy "what's left of the ordered world of training, hard work and fair compensation". With entry-level jobs disappearing and competition fierce, many young people slip into a "relentless credentialing slog", amassing internships in the hope that a resplendent CV, a testament to dedication, may unlock the door to that elusive prospect - the paid job. In the UK, "internship" once denoted a structured period of experience with a guaranteed stipend. As anyone who has recently tried interning knows, this is no longer the case ...
Andrew Ross reviews Ross Perlin's Intern Nation in this week's London Review of Books. Ross discusses various factors that have contributed to rising unemployment rates, including the rise of unpaid internships alongside corporations moving operations offshore and the fact that many employees are facing longer hours or pay cuts due to the economic downturn. Suggesting that the digital turn has increased the availibility of free or token-wage labor, Ross asserts:
The most widespread trend in the world of working for nothing, however, is the explosion of white-collar and no-collar interning. Not only is interning the fastest-growing job category, it is also fashionable, with Kanye West signed on at the Gap and Lady Gaga in line to be taught about millinery by Philip Treacy. In Intern Nation, Ross Perlin, a survivor of serial internships on three continents, describes the lengths to which graduates must go to secure an unpaid intern position (often the first of many) that might help them build a CV or get a foot in the door. An auction market has even sprung up to sell these positions to the highest bidder. A Versace internship fetched $5000 at auction, temporary blogging rights at the Huffington Post went for $13,000, and someone paid $42,500 for a one-week stint at Vogue.