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Worryingly, the data suggests that youngsters in different regions stand less chance of opportunities to gain work experience due to a geographical imbalance of hires. Indeed, just 38 per cent of London firms say they have never employed interns, which spikes sharply to 72 per cent for businesses in the Midlands.
Meanwhile, 67 per cent of companies in the North and 61 per cent in the East have been found not offering paid internships. And across the study as a whole, 37 per cent of firms claim to have employed interns through friends and family, supporting the common belief that “it’s who you know” in today’s job market. It also limits the skills base on offer, and the ACCA expects the trend to fall to 25 per cent by 2017.
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Helen Brand, chief executive of ACCA, said: “We know that only a tiny minority of young people can afford to travel to London for an internship. With work experience now considered an integral part of any CV, the lack of opportunities available outside the capital will only add to the economic divide between the north and south of the country in future years.
“By 2017, ACCA wants to see at least 60 per cent of all businesses having employed a paid intern and to have reaped the multitude of benefits that working with a talented, enthusiastic young person can bring.”
The findings follow National Apprenticeship Week, which ran 9-13 March across the country. It had large announcements, including the promise of 23,000 apprenticeships from the likes of Halfords, British Airways and the RAF, but seemingly much still needs to be done to support those interested in internships.
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Chris Hares, campaigns manager for Intern Aware said: “This research confirms what young people have been saying for years – internships are being dished out to friends and family members, rather than the most able. This creates a new hurdle for bright young people who lack money or connections.
“This is also making the problem of unpaid internships worse. Businesses and young people alike need a fair system which provides legal clarity, which is why we’re calling for the Government to require all internships lasting more than four weeks to be paid.”
According to Helen Brand, improving access to internships will not only bring benefits to young people from the area, but offers a boost to the businesses offering them too.
“Improving access to internships across the country is a vital part of addressing the geographical imbalance in our economy. Cultivating a talented, motivated, ambitious workforce is a vital component of any good strategy for growth. If businesses located outside London want to compete with those based in the capital, offering paid internships to the next generation of local talent is key.”
The tech industry could potentially be one sector that will take heed of the findings. Companies outside of London in areas such as Cambridge, Bristol and Birmingham have been eager to replicate the Tech City model from the capital and have attempted to match salaries where possible.
The study found businesses with fewer than 50 members of staff were less likely to offer internships, as 83 per cent had never done so.
“The opportunity to work in a range of different business environments gives young people a broader experience of work and a better idea of how their strengths and weaknesses fit with potential employers,” Brand said.
“In smaller companies, interns can often make a bigger impact and the effect of work can be seen relatively quickly. Also, many placements with smaller companies are project based which means that interns have more opportunity to take ownership of a task and see it through to the end.
“In a smaller organisation a spare pair of hands can undertake tasks no-one else has time for. Interns can provide a valuable resource to smaller businesses where existing staff are busy working hard on maintaining ‘business-as-usual’ and don’t have the time to look at issues such as competitor analysis, marketing or market research – all key areas for growth.”
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