Over-worked, under-paid and over here

14 Dec

Even though I’m aware of unpaid internships and I appreciate the value they can add to a CV, I am still amazing, even appalled, about the way some companies are taking advantage of the situation faced by so many people.

And it’s not just big businesses that are cashing-in on the current economic climate. Even charities are banking on people’s desperation to get that first step on the employment ladder.

Gone are the days where endless photocopying and tea-making skills were honed in the office (thank goodness!)  and instead unpaid internships offer genuine ‘at the chalk-face’ experience so highly sought after by prospective employers, but at what cost?

A former classmate of mine wrote this article about the effects this very situation is having on the people of Manchester. It made for interesting reading.

My experience

Unpaid internships were brought to my attention about 18 months ago. As seasoned justanotherwannabehack readers will know, a key element of my degree course was an internship.

I naively thought (hoped) that with such experience under my belt I would find it easier than other graduates to get a job.

It didn’t happen. And after numerous voluntary roles, diploma studies and futile job searches, I’m no further down the employment path, just more qualified and a bit poorer. And working in a restaurant. But I’m not alone.  

And it’s this hunger to get into graduate employment that drives so many people to take on grossly unfair internships.

Unemployed: more people desperately seeking work experience, but at what cost?

Typical internship

Take this advert, for  an Income Generation Internship with MyBnk. It is unashamedly a six-month, full-time, unpaid internship.

It’s located in London (naturally) and states that although the internship is unpaid, travel expenses (up to £10 per day) and a lunch allowance (up to £4 per day) is provided.

This equates to a maximum of £14 in payment for a typical eight-hour working day. The national minimum wage stipulates that a worker (over 21) should receive at least £6.08 an hour  but in this instance the lucky recipient of what is being sold as “a fantastic stepping stone into a career in the charitable, education or youth work sector” will be earning the princely sum of £1.75 an hour.

Based on a 40-hour working week amounts to £70. Min wage = £243.20.

During the course of the six-month placement equals £1820 (assuming no holiday or sick leave was taken, which again I’m assuming is unpaid.) Min wage = £6323*

Which if calculated pro rata means that would equal £3640. Min wage  = £12646. (However this would need additional calculations factored in to take into consideration London weighting.)

What an absolute disgrace.

Unless you have a base in London and can afford to live off a dependent other (parents/guardians/partner) you’re buggered.

The list of key skills and responsibilities are as long as any I’ve seen for a ‘real’ job. They are succinctly described as such:

Your responsibilities will touch on all aspects of income generation at MyBnk (fundraising, local authority & government contracts, direct sales and corporate engagement).

I don’t know about you, but to me that sounds pretty much like a job as opposed to a work experience stint.

I think that at the end of the lengthy list of key skills it should read: must have access to a big pot of cash.

Financial concerns aside, I appreciate that an internship will equip someone with a very valuable skillset which may prove to be the deciding factor in getting a job in the future. However as I, along with many other young people in the UK, have found out that’s not necessarily enough.

Indeed the advert eludes to this by adding : Please note we cannot guarantee a job offer at the end of the 6 month programme.

This is not a hate campaign aimed squarely at MyBnk, it is merely an example. There are many other places that are advertising similar schemes which seem to replace paid workers with a near-constant stream of underpaid, over-grateful wannabe-workers.

What next ?

What I worry about it whether the jobs market will expand in the near future and open its doors to trainee-level applicants. Not only that, but whether companies will be willing to put their money where their mouths are and actually stump-up for its high calibre workforce in waiting. I really hope so.

Ready and waiting: the future workforce... and they want paying

For now it’s tea, crumpets (I decided to splash out), more job-hunting and Christmas shopping. Yay!

Here’s to a happy and prosperous 2012.

*Figures based on minimum wage earnings for over 21s. Six months averaged to 26 weeks.


2 Responses to “Over-worked, under-paid and over here”

  1. kelvin cheung December 16, 2011 at 10:47 am #


    I would like to leave a comment.

    I worked at MyBnk as an unpaid intern for 6 months back in 2008. It was after a variety of other stints at other organisations (some valuing me, and some others not really) that I joined. I had some support from my parents, and also worked as a gym class instructor and a tutor on the side to keep things afloat.

    I had a great experience at the post, because even though I was a volunteer, I felt like a part of the team. It didn’t feel like work, but it didn’t feel like a volunteer position either because I was given real responsibility in taking things forward. It was here that I got the experience, skills and confidence, and also the desire to start my own charity – FoodCycle.

    Now in it’s 3rd year, what we do is bring together surplus food, volunteers and a free kitchen space to create nutritious meals for people at risk of food poverty. We have 16 locations across the country, and most are run by volunteers, with supervision from our head office in London. I created this charity so young people can get the skills that employers are looking for – management, communication, crisis resolution, etc… while they are doing this activity – it gives them real responsibility as well. I did this because well, I was also quite frustrated that I had a masters degree but no one would hire me.

    Which brings me unto my points about interning –

    1) Not all internships are created equal. Some make you do photocopies and make tea and data entry. Some give you a project to take forward, and learn some great skills. Here is an organisation http://www.internocracy.org/ that works to make internships more equitable, much more of this is needed as I agree, many internships are crap, but the MyBnk one is not one of them, and to pick one out of a hat knowing very little about them or how they work and criticise it is unfair.

    2) Get to the root of the problem – I had an undergraduate, and a masters, and still no one would hire me as I did not have the right skills and experience. School is good, but it doesn’t give you employment skills. It gives you skills such as how to properly reference a 10,000 essay on ‘Foucault and his work on sexuality and how it influence international development in the 1960’s post- independence India’. Not really useful when you have to project management a project with 6 staff and loads of unforeseeable challenges. Also, few entry level jobs give you job experience for one to excel at as well.

    So maybe this need to get internships to get your first job is a continuation of education unfortunately, because besides vocational colleges, school is definitely NOT giving us the skills to succeed in the real world. In an academic researchy world yes. But not all jobs are that, nor does everybody want a job in that.

    I must also add that that is what MyBnk does. Teach people how to manage their money, because God knows I did macroeconomics, but no one told me what the hell an APR is, and how many people get their first credit card and get into debt when they are 18 because of it. REAL SKILLS. That should have been taught long ago. I learn about APR when I was at MyBnk, which is a bit shocking!

    3) There’s bigger fish out there to fry out there – how about writing about the government’s plan to place long term unemployed young people for ‘work experience’ in Tesco, refilling shelves on tax payer’s money. Tesco made like a gazillion pounds last year, and now the government wants them to get free labour too? I see that as a bigger problem.

    4) Charities are facing increasingly difficult funding environment – and the issues that we tackle are only getting worse. Charities like MyBnk and FoodCycle are driven by people that are so passionate for what they do, but constantly they are expected to change the world on a salary and an operational budget that is peanuts – me – the CEO get paid about the same as an mid level assistant at a law firm. Unfortunately, one way we do this is by getting volunteers in to help. But we try to give them what they want in experience in return for their help. This isn’t going to change for a while, not until the government gives us the proper funding to do some of the most important issues that face our generation.

    My end point:

    Be angry. Be frustrated. Be pissed. But focus that on the roots of the problem.

  2. Just another wannabe hack December 16, 2011 at 11:27 pm #

    Hi Kelvin, thanks for replying. It’s interesting to hear it from your perspective, having interned for MyBnk.

    I agree that interning for a charity can be hugely rewarding, I interned for Citizens Advice Bureau for three months earlier in the year and learned a great deal about a wide range of issues they help people with including financial, employment and family problems. In the end, working two part-time jobs and volunteering at CAB just wasn’t financially or personally viable. If I’d have had the money behind me I would have left one of the jobs and continued working for CAB as I was learning a great deal of practical skills while helping people, however bills needed to be paid.

    I also agree that internships are inevitable part of our journeys into work, however I feel disheartened that internships are being used as vehicles to increase numbers in the workforce without paying them fairly for their time and effort.

    In one sense MyBnk was picked at random, but in another, it was due to the minute detail the internship specification went into. It seemed an excessive workload for an unpaid intern during the course of six months. Perhaps it’s credit to the charity that it goes into such detail.

    During the course of many an internship (at CAB, local newspapers and a hyper-local Manchester-based news website) I have critiqued the Coalition’s plans for such schemes and have spoken to many people about them and what their responses are. It’s not so much the fact that one has to work for free to get somewhere in the jobs market, it’s the fact that increasingly it seems that paid work dries up beyond that unpaid internship. Indeed I have had a number of places say they are impressed with my work experience history and my portfolio, but they don’t have the means to offer anything beyond that. And to me, as I’m sure is the case with a lot of other people, it seems that our skill-set is not valued beyond a free placement. That is something I find increasingly difficult to deal with.

    The fact that so many internships are in London is seen as an additional hurdle to those of us North of Watford. But that again is not the charities’ or companies’ fault. But it is an additional financial burden that cannot be overlooked when the ‘pay’ is so low.

    Again I appreciate that charities have been hit very hard in this recession, but so have the people who are trying to get on the employment ladder.

    Thanks for taking the time to reply and shed some light on the work that MyBnk does, and the best of luck with your own charity.

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