Graduate view: Recurring nightmare of unpaid internships

Unpaid internships are turning into a recurring nightmare for graduates.

We need experience to enter the working world but looming student debts mean that we can’t afford to work for free. Without the experience we find it difficult to find even an entry-level role and so the vicious cycle continues.

So, imagine the horror when reports emerged unveiling a new low for graduates: internships being auctioned off to the highest bidder. I found myself in a hot flush reading the figures that some of these placements have sold for: one role with Richard Branson and hip-hop entrepreneur Russell Simmons went under the hammer for a wallet-splitting £53,000. The more “affordable” placements have included a £2,000 banking internship and £5,000 for an unpaid position within Jay-Z’s record company, Roc Nation. With youth unemployment at an all-time high, and morale taking a beating from negative media coverage, graduates are being further alienated by the job market. Not only are we being asked to work for free, but now to pay thousands of pounds for the privilege.

Those of us who are more academically gifted may perhaps believe that our higher-than-average IQs and impressive results could perhaps overcome the money-orientated employment industry. Alas, it is not so. A student at the top of their law class at Oxford University recently contacted HSBC to ask for work-shadowing experience. They were informed that such opportunities are not routinely offered but can occasionally be awarded only to the sons and daughters of HSBC executives.

A penniless graduate is a stereotype that has been long accepted by society so the thought that graduate opportunities are now being auctioned off to the highest bidder rather than the most suitable candidate is mind-boggling to say the least. Unfortunately, for those of us who find ourselves overdrawn, underpaid and overworked, it would seem the little chance we had to break into the tough graduate market is fading rapidly if we can’t cough up the cash. With wealth now being favoured over experience or enthusiasm and no genetic links to use to my advantage, I fear that soon I’ll be scrounging at the ankles of executives, begging “Please sir, can I have some more [job opportunities]?”

As an outsider, seeing an individual who has been granted privileged access to the job market thanks to a grant from the Bank of Mummy and Daddy Inc doesn’t show intelligence or experience but poor self-worth and next to no personal achievement. So why is it that an employer would readily accept these traits when there must be thousands of skilled graduates ready to give both arms and a leg for such an opportunity? It’s a sad fact that perhaps companies are blinded by money rather than enamoured of education and experience and us skilled but skint graduates suffer.

When the requirements of the job market shift from what you know to who you know, graduates are faced with either challenging unpaid internships and auctioned-off opportunities or robbing a bank and making more contacts. I hope employers sit up and take notice of the plea from not only myself but on behalf of every struggling graduate out there to embrace the challenge of improving the graduate job market, not making it near impossible to get into. If they do so, we may face a more positive economy for graduates rather than a bright future reserved only for the elite generation born with a financial advantage. I challenge you to employ us for who we are and what we’ve achieved, not for the figures in our bank account. You’d be amazed at what we can do.

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