All work and no pay makes for an unmotivated intern

As end of term once again nears for both schools and universities, thousands of young, career-hungry minds will soon be diving into their first experience of the working-world.

Unfortunately for many this means enduring long hours, running menial errands and generally feeling like the office skivvy – and all for no pay.

In a recent poll of 1,500 UK businesses, 31.6 per cent said they felt placement workers in their firm were currently being exploited. Just 40.3 per cent claimed to pay their interns minimum wage or above, and 33.7 per cent admitted to giving interns work they considered to be “menial”.

Just last month Parliament voted to take forward a Ten Minute Rule Bill, advocating better payment of work experience people. This Bill recommends that unpaid work experience cannot last more than a month, after which compensation should be given.

Not only is it a form of exploitation to work interns to the bone without reimbursement, it can also be such a demoralising experience for the worker that it leaves them completely unmotivated towards continuing the opportunity, or at worst, reluctant to pursue a future career in that specific sector. It’s important to remember that everyone is wired to operate on a gains and rewards basis. Without any gains or rewards, there’s unlikely to be any motivation. Equally, inspiring people early on in their careers can spur them on to become the future of the industry they started out in. Remember, the younger generation are tomorrow’s leaders so we have a responsibility to nurture their talents and equip them for what lies ahead.

Internships can be rewarding and useful experiences for both the intern and the company – but what these figures show is that a significant minority of placements are used as cheap labour, providing little experience or benefit to the jobseeker.

But it’s not just about government action. There’s so much more that needs to be done to protect our young hopefuls from such exploitations.

It’s important for companies to change their processes with or without legislation. We need to recognise that internships are a two-way deal – an extra pair of hands for the company, in return for a useful experience and preferably some kind of compensation for the jobseeker.

David Saul is managing director at Business Environment.

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