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Fears over unpaid internships

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Alan Milburn, independent reviewer of social mobility and child poverty for the coalition government, voices concerns over the implications of unpaid internships in the spring edition of Graduate Market Trends, published today (23 April 2012). Milburn talks candidly in the Higher Education Careers Services quarterly guide to the graduate labour market, he says: “I’m concerned at the number of unpaid internships and informal ‘friends and family schemes’ that are still common in some sectors. The evidence that I have seen shows that, despite some examples to the contrary, connection rather than ability continues to be the key to getting an internship. This is both unfair and bad for business. So I think there are three key principles for effective internship programmes.

First, providing individuals with meaningful work experience opportunities, rather than be used as a source of free or cheap administrative support. Second, ensuring opportunities are accessible to all and based on ‘what you know’, rather than ‘who you know’, through open and transparent recruitment. And third, offering paid internships, so that they are accessible to those without private means of support.”

Getting behind the recent Wilson review, Milburn said that: “There should be a sector wide agreement that no university careers service will offer unpaid internships. In general, this will mean that the employer should pay. In a small number of cases, where there are outstanding internship opportunities but the employer is simply unable to provide funding, then universities should use their Offa funds to support eligible students. Employers need graduates, and so the sector could send a powerful message that would help move this forward.”

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