WANNA work for free? Join the queue. Almost 20% per cent of UK companies are using the ‘recession’ as means of cheap (i.e. free) labour in these austere times. Coupled with the fact that the number doing unpaid work is unclear but increasing rapidly, means that exploitation is now the norm.
A quick look on any website in the graduate section means that most companies now are openly breaking UK employment law and employing people on contracts that are difficult to survive on without an income.
Those who wish to change career or ‘diversify’, are now being encouraged to become an intern to get a foot in the door of their chosen profession.
So when did we become a nation of interns exactly? Only a few years ago, positions of work with no payment were called ‘work experience placements’, and internships were only something that happened in North America.
Re-branding, along with a parallel business (and socio-economic) culture mean that, what happens in say, the States, happens here. It was only a matter of time before the work experience kid became the intern. Re-branding, however, is the clincher – the deal breaker. The name has more gravity than a three-word noun phrase, and allows for more exclusivity. It oozes faux importance without stating anything at all. It enables an application process – and a longer fixed term contract.
This is further cemented into the cultural consciousness with a massively successful television show – The Apprentice. A number of sassy and ambitious young people in their single-minded attempt to win the prestigious position with a leading business figure. While the financial and vocation rewards are much more modest for most looking to get noticed, it is nevertheless a demonstration of just how accepting we’ve become of changes making us all worse off in the long game.
In the last decade there have been organisations like the Confederation of British Industry (CBI) and their former Captain of Industry, Sir Digby Jones who stated that UK graduates were not up to scatch, which was damaging British industry. Such disdain is unlikely to encourage companies to take a gamble and put someone on the payroll without getting insight into their ability.
There maybe some truth in this, however much I’d like to disagree. Since the 1992 Higher and Further Education Act of John Major’s Conservative government, which increased the number of universities, and the number of graduates finishing each year has flooded the labour pool and made it a buyers market. Throughout the 90s, universities (or the newer instutions), chasing free government cash, offered courses as fun and as meaningless as DJ Technology and Media Studies, in which academic pursuits were devalued. When fees came in, universities cleaned up their act but nevertheless, the queue of would-be students continued to increase – many eager, able and willing. Some who, perhaps were not so.
Unsurprisingly, the universities, with government help, have put tuition fees out of reach of the average student. The unceasing supply of graduates had to stop in order to avert mass unemployment for those entering the world of work like the situation which is happening in Spain currently, where 43% of recent graduates are unemployed.
While the situation in the UK for those finishing university this year is not quite so dire, it still remains incredibly uncertain. Then only hope for many is an unpaid work placement. For those who can’t afford to give up six months of their time without a salary, it could well mean a whole lot of shattered dreams and wasted talent.