THE beleaguered life of an unpaid intern is not an unfamiliar sight in the competitive modern workplace. Many recent graduates are wooed into the positions, eager to gain valuable experience, build up priceless contacts, or test out a potential future career to see if it fits.
More people than ever are convinced of the value of these placements and the beneficial impact they will have on future earnings. But according to a recent study from the Institute for Social and Economic Research at the University of Essex, it appears they may have been fed a lie.
Almost every graduate taking an unpaid internship can expect to be worse off three years later than if they had gone straight into work, the study found.
“On average, former interns face a salary penalty of approximately £3,500 (US$4,500) per year compared with those who went straight into paid work, and £1,500 (US$2,000) compared with those who went into further study,” the study concluded.
These results will no doubt prove shocking to the tens of thousands of graduates who each year embark on these programmes with the belief they’re getting a foot on the job ladder. And, despite the disappointing results, more and more are jumping on the bandwagon.
The report found the rate of internship participation in the United Kingdom between 2007 and 2011 trebled, from 0.5 percent to 1.5 percent of graduates.
“I expect some people will find an internship that enables them to do the job they really want to do and that will have the big labour-market return but, on average, an internship you take won’t lead directly to a job in the profession you really wanted or the profession you did the internship in,” author of the report, Dr Angus Holford, told The Guardian.
The study also found those who took internships were less likely to go on to professional or managerial roles or be satisfied with their career compared with those who had gone straight into work.
When compared to their peers who went into further study, interns were a whopping 15 percent less likely to work in a professional or managerial role, and a shocking 8.8 percent less likely to be “very satisfied” in their career.
There might be some small light at the end of the tunnel though for those who have already embarked on the unpaid-express.
Holford speculated the disparity in wages could be down to the fact many internships are in highly competitive sectors that did not need to offer high salaries to attract employees.
“There’s a lot of jobs, for example in the arts or charities or non-governmental organisations, for whom people will willingly take a pay cut,” Holford said.
“People want to work for them because they’re doing good deeds. So, as a result, they’ve got many more people applying to work for them. If these are the jobs people end up working in after an internship, then it’s not such a surprise if the wages are lower.”