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Unpaid internships worsen career prospects

The research supports similar findings in the US by the National Association of Colleges and Employers which found 60% of paid interns received a job offer compared to just 37% of unpaid interns.

The poll of 682 senior business decision makers shows 26% of businesses pay their interns nothing or less than the Minimum Wage. 82% of businesses using unpaid interns or paying interns less than the National Minimum Wage say that interns can perform tasks that are useful to their business. This potentially represents a very widespread breach of employment law.

The research findings coincide with an announcement from Enternships - UK’s leading specialist internship and graduate recruitment platform working with over 6000 employers that they are banning the listing of unpaid internships on their site to support fair access to internships for all.

Rajeeb Dey, Founder & CEO of Enternships said: “in this day and age it’s simply unacceptable for talented young people to be exploited and not paid for their hard work. Where an intern is working for a company and clearly adding value they should be treated as any other worker and paid in accordance to the National Minimum Wage. It is clear from today’s research findings that employers who pay their interns value them more are are more likely to offer them full-time employment. Unpaid interns are at risk of being trapped in a vicious cycle of unpaid work with no chance of furthering their career prospects if we do not take urgent action. By banning the advertisement of unpaid roles we hope interns are hired on their ability alone rather than whether they can afford to work unpaid and encourage employers to create more meaningful internship opportunities whereby both the intern and business can realise its value.”

Ben Lyons, co-founder of Intern Aware, the campaign for fair internships, commented on today’s research findings saying “Unpaid internships exclude the vast majority of young people who can’t afford to work for free. As well as being morally wrong, unpaid internships are bad for business, as employers are only able to draw from a small talent pool. The Government should address this problem by introducing a new four week limit to unpaid internships. A four week limit would provide fairness to young people and clarity to employers.”

In recent years the culture of hiring unpaid internships has grown from a pre recession fringe practice to an accepted norm in the graduate recruitment process with the think tank IPPR estimating that there are approximately 100,000 unpaid interns in the UK.

A 2012 YouGov survey of interns found that the practice of unpaid internships was harming social mobility with two out of every five graduates having to turn down internship opportunities due to financial reasons. The active employment of unpaid interns is also increasingly being frowned upon by government with HMRC announcing a crackdown on unpaid internships in November 2013.

Government is reviewing legislation in this arena with Tory MP Alec Shelbrooke proposing a motion in Parliament in May 2014 to outlaw unpaid internships which last longer than 4 weeks to provide employers a clear signal around what is and is not acceptable in the eyes of the law.

One employer who knows all about the benefits of paying their interns is Andy Bell, CEO of Boomf & Co-Founder of Mint Digital. “At Mint Digital, for the last 4 years we have run a paid internship scheme called The Foundry. This has led to a batch of wonderful projects, including a Smelly Robot - http://www.ollyfactory.com/ and a game made with living dough  http://www.doughglobe.com/

"The best intern we ever had was via Enternships. Kejia Zhu joined us when he was trying to get out of working in banking. He developed a new product for us - Stickygram (Instagram photos on magnets) which a few years later was spun out of Mint Digital and sold to Photobox. This was probably our biggest single business success, and totally built around the talents of a paid intern.

"We really believe strongly in the value of interns to our business and ensuring that they are adequately rewarded interns have become an integral part of all our ventures, including our latest one - Boomf.”

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