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Unpaid placements… A blessing or a curse?

Until quite recently I, rather naively, had never thought deeply enough about the issue of unpaid work placements to see them as problematic. Perhaps tellingly, I didn’t think twice about completing them myself; to me, it was just a given in order to get me to where I needed to be.

It was only after reading a little more deeply into the topic, and being advised of Leeds Beckett’s stance on the issue that the real implications of students taking up unpaid internships became apparent.

As an intern, I have found my placements to be invaluable, insightful and often I approached the organisations I have worked for myself – they weren’t actively looking for help, but kindly took me on.  So I’d like to make it clear that this is not an attack on anybody. I would argue, however, that this is a reflection of my own circumstances. I feel incredibly privileged that I am in a position where, for the past two years, I have been able to complete these internships on a part time basis without really considering the financial impact.

It’s clear to see why completing work that is paid but less relevant to the industry, and being able to survive in the short term (i.e paying your bills!) can seem more appealing than doing something that may or may not have a positive impact on your career in the future.  But for those already struggling to balance the ridiculously high costs of life as a student (yes student housing and rising tuition fees, I’m looking at you), this is an impossible prospect.

The impact of this is not only an unfair advantage for people who can afford to do these placements, but the wider impact on the already lacking levels of diversity in PR.  In one fairly recent article, the progress being made is described as ‘achingly slow‘ – and is it any wonder?  The responsibility for this may also lie in our future employers hands.  For employers to consider the fact many students must work instead of spending their holidays working for nothing, and to give them an opportunity to prove themselves before immediately rejecting them for a lack of experience would go a long way in helping aspiring professionals to get their foot in the door.


I saw this tweet last year during the period when the #firstsevenjobs hashtag was blowing up… And well, I’ll leave you to make up your own mind!

Up until now, this blog has mainly focused on short-term, part-time work placements.  But during my hunt for a 12-month placement, I have seen countless advertisements for jobs that barely cover expenses, often based in central London which to me seems ludicrous… Not to mention unethical. Surely employers have a moral obligation, if nothing else, to pay their interns?

It is a saving grace that both of the PR industry’s professional bodies, the CIPR and the PRCA, have made clear their view on unpaid placements. And this view is that they are unacceptable.  The CIPR “advocates that all work placements should be paid at least the living wage,” and have created a toolkit for employers.  The PRCA has featured a list of employers that have pledged to pay their interns on their website.

The stance that is being taken by the majority of industry professionals is quite clear, but I wonder is the PR world as a whole doing enough to actively tackle the issue?

For more information on the legalities of unpaid internships, visit PRcareers

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6 thoughts on “Unpaid placements… A blessing or a curse?”

  1. Great blog Rosie. I think its becoming more and more of an issue and employers are exploiting the fact that students really need as much as experience as they can so are willing to work for free.

    My university ran a great scheme where employers could let the university know what sort of people they were looking for, students could apply and say what work they were looking for and you were matched up. Students were paid, I believe partly by the uni and partly by the employer, but I think it was a great way to know I was getting a fair and beneficial internship.

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    1. Thanks Arianne, you’re spot on with that comment! I think there definitely needs to be a little more commitment from employers in regards to offering fair placements, and your university scheme sounds really useful in creating useful and long-lasting partnerships.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Hi Rosie

    Like many in the industry do we pay interns. I actually believe that we offer a great thing. Actual real life warts and all experience. In at the deep end. But I also believe that interns deserve to be paid. It’s fair. But that deal brings with it a level of commitment too and sometimes sadly that’s not what we get in return.

    Tony Garner
    MD Viva
    http://www.vivapr.co.uk

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    1. Hi Tony, thanks for your comment. It’s great to hear that you pay your interns and yes, I agree completely that internships provide an incredibly valuable experience to students. It’s disappointing that sometimes you don’t get the commitment you’d expect but I suppose it is like with anything, some you win, some you lose! Though it’s sad that a minority can ruin it for others. This certainly wasn’t an attack at internship / work placement providers as I’m grateful for all of the experience I’ve been able to gain.

      All the best,
      Rosie

      Like

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