HR & Management

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Should you bother paying interns?

4 Mins

A few months back a number of the national papers reported on the £3,000 paid by wealthy parents at the Tory party Black and White ball, in return for internships for their children at some of the City’s biggest financial institutions. David Cameron has since banned the practice as it seems the elitist overtones were making even the staunchest Conservatives squirm. 

Ironically, as a former city employee myself, I can testify that these enthusiastic ‘interns’ would have more than likely been engaged by company juniors or administration staff in the most menial of tasks, until they failed to show up one morning or became so disillusioned and despondent, the company let them go – a lose-lose scenario.

With more young adults embarking on university careers than ever before, the UK is coming to terms with record numbers of degree-level educated candidates desperate for work. A very small percentage are embarking on corporate graduate schemes, but the truth of the matter is graduates often don’t know where or how to look for work. The jobs are there but they don’t know how to find them – especially in the UK’s thriving SME sector.

What’s the cost?

Some employers have recognised the shortage of jobs in the market and the need for young, green candidates to gain experience in their sector of choice. This results in graduates working for free just to gain a reference for their CV. Not an ideal scenario. The traditional trade-off of experience and industry know-how as a substitute for wages, may well be acceptable for school children looking to get a first flavour of the workplace in the Easter holidays, but it’s unlikely to encourage job ownership and a quality work ethic.

In fact, companies that expect a graduate to come on board to work for free will be seriously limiting the talent pool they have to choose from as so few can afford this option – especially as it won’t be long before standard university debt will be in excess of £40,000. However, moving beyond the fact that some of the best candidates won’t be able to work gratis, we’ve found that the more a company puts in, the more they get out. Paying your new employee will make them more conscientious, take greater pride in their work and approach their tenure at your company with more enthusiasm as they’ll feel like a valued member of the team. 

Companies that have tried both approaches to graduate recruitment testify that while the initial appeal of an extra pair of hands for free can be hard to resist, they more often than not lose out. It won’t be long before that individual is compelled to look for paid work elsewhere – often while ‘working’ for their current employer. When it comes to paid placements on the other hand, 90 per cent result in a permanent offer being made, and most companies come back for a second placement within a year – clear evidence of the value added by the paid approach. 

Expanding SMEs need to exploit the large number of highly qualified graduates looking to kick-start their careers. Temporary paid placements open up the talent pool for both employer and employee as the former gains an enthusiastic mind, keen to excel and earn their wage, while the latter gets paid for their efforts while gaining experience for the curriculum vitae in a smaller, but high-quality company.

Cary Curtis is the founder of specialist SME graduate recruiter Give-a-Grad-a-Go

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