If you are studying at a university or have recently finished then you have probably done or considered doing an internship at some point. The job market has changed dramatically in the past ten years with job shortages and fierce competition leading to a culture where graduates are expected to work for free. The ‘Go Think Big’ campaign, which was launched this week by O2 aims to change all of this by offering 30,000 work skills opportunities to young people over the next three years.
The scheme will offer paid work experience placements, internships, apprenticeships and skills days that can all be accessed through the Go Think Big website, which aims to be a single site where thousands of opportunities are available. The scheme was put together by industry giants O2 and Bauer Media, who own magazines such as Grazia, Heat and Kerrang, and will undoubtedly come as welcome news for the 460,000 16 to 25-year-olds unemployed who say they have not been able to secure work in their chosen career.
The issue surrounding students and graduates being exploited through unpaid work is one that has made it in to headlines a lot recently. Paul Keenan, the CEO of ‘Go Think Big’ said to WNOL: “UK businesses desperately need young people with skills in the work place and it is a two-way relationship. I strongly believe interns should be paid but don’t expect employers to pay young people for one weeks worth of work experience”
It is a valid point that young people shouldn’t expect to be paid for one week; however, perhaps what we do need is a more balanced system, whereby companies offer paid placements that are equally valuable for them and for the employee. According to Paul Keenan: “Employers need to have some support and infrastructure on how they can make the work experience they are offering relevant to real work. We believe businesses should be recruiting diverse work forces and not just from a limited group”.
One of the best things about the new website is the commitment to ensure all the internships advertised that last a minimum of two weeks are paid. This means that the opportunities are open to all young people not just the ones who can afford to work for free. Graduate Sophia Jones spoke to WNOL about her struggles to find work, “I simply cannot afford to work for free on a long term basis and then I can’t get a job because I don’t have enough experience. I would like to work in TV but most of the vacancies request a years’ experience as a runner and unfortunately most companies aren’t willing to pay runners so it becomes a vicious cycle”
With 20% of young people in Britain unemployed it’s a scramble for opportunities leaving graduates willing to do anything to get their foot in the door. Unfortunately this has led to a culture of exploitation, reflected in films like The Devil Wears Prada or more recently in E4’s latest show The Work Experience, which shows a group of young people put in humiliating scenarios as they battle out to win the coveted prize – a position at one of London’s top fashion firms.
Unpaid internships have become a prerequisite for jobs across all of the economy, not just in the glamorous worlds of fashion and media. The IPPR think-tank estimates there are as many as 100,000 interns who are not paid the national minimum wage in Britain. The Go Think Big Campaign is a scheme that will hopefully put an end to the work for free culture that young people have been faced with and lead to a new direction of increased awareness and paid opportunities for young people.
For more information on the campaign visit: Go Think Big
By Florence Adu-Yeboah
Image Courtesy of Stephen McKay