Sunday, April 24, 2011

The implications of unpaid interns in the PR industry.

I have been following an interesting case about unpaid interns in which employers have been taking advantage of students who are desperate to try anything in order to get some experience and then start to look for a job with something important in their CVs. The problem is mostly seen in the media sector and has been approached by many on the field.

In PR week for example, there is an article- -, explaining how employers in the PR industry have been opting on finding unpaid students as a result of the credit crisis and the low budget they have to cover costs. Therefore, they are tempting to hire people willing to work long hours in order to just get experience.

My question is: Where are the ethics of these people? I think that this is so unfair for students, it is definitely no right and dishonest to use them for their own benefit as students not only in many cases finish their studies with huge debts, and being without a job at all, they struggle to make their ends meet, on the top of that, they are finding an world full of debts taxing highly their generation for the errors their ancestors did, and a highly competitive market where given the current circumstances is harder than ever to stand out and show they are worth it, as it is not the most competitive and capable people those accepting the internships, but only those that can actually afford to do it, as they are still being supported by their parents.

These arguments makes even more concerning the situation as if that is correct, those who are missing out on the opportunities of taking not paid professional internships are those who are more disadvantaged.

Many people seem to agree with the idea that ‘is ethically wrong to employ anyone who, over several months, is adding real value to one's business, without paying them properly’ (Rogers, 2011). This kind of behavior some organisations have is definitely wrong as it affects no just students but also the profession.

As a result of this scandal, many newspapers and websites suchs as are offering advice to students in order to let them know what their rights are and what they should evaluate while deciding if an internship is worth doing such as discussing the purpose of the internship and clarify expectations from the start and ensure the placement is valuable.

Additionally, it has come to light some legal implications such as accusations of exploitation if employers recruit graduates to work for free for periods of six months or more. I am of the opinion that organisations should act in a more responsible way with volunteer students who are trying to prove their skills and learn from daily experiences; at the end students are who should get the more out of it.

For me, it is definitely a case to follow as I am a 1st year student and I have to start thinking seriously on applying for internships while studying, to get an understanding of how the PR real world works, and to prepare for the future. Although there are still a lot of people avoiding the ethics issue of this matter, there are also many others who demonstrate real concern about it, therefore, everything is not lost for us as students. I have received plenty of advice from my tutors at the University and I hope all Universities are doing the same.

1 comment:

  1. Having been an intern for the past 3 months, I can totally understand how demoralising it can be for a student or new graduate to absolutely work their socks off for a company and feel like they don't get the recognition (or pay) that they feel is deserved, and in some ways I can see how it can be viewed as exploitation.

    For me though, most employers, like mine, will have absolutely no problem in paying you per week for expenses in order for you to travel back and forth from where the internship is based and some, depending on the size of the company, even have their own canteens where lunch is provided. And, although this may not seem like an awful lot, it does go a long way, believe me!

    I, personally have learned such a lot in just three months of being an intern, and feel the experience will be invaluable in terms of a future career in the industry. One must understand that nowadays, experience is a necessity, even if you're fresh out of university. For me, the only way to obtain this experience is through a good quality internship.

    The contact list I have managed to build up, and relationships I have created through my internship in just three months is something I would never have been able to achieve without this opportunity as an intern and I know I these will definitely be of great help in my future career.

    The organisation you are interning for may feel they have given you a chance to get your foot in the door of the PR industry; they are doing YOU a favour and may even feel that 'you should be thankful for what you're given'.

    So, when it comes to being on the payroll, interns may not exactly be at the top of that list. Some companies can carry the attitude of 'you should be grateful for this opportunity we've given you'. Which, although may not quite be the right attitude to have, it will certainly strengthen a personality and help in terms of a career in the PR industry.

    While I may not agree with this attitude, and I do believe that interns who show a willingness to learn and progress in their career should be rewarded, I do understand that many companies, especially in the economic climate of this generation simply do not have the funds to pay interns appropriately as if they are an employee. In other industries, such as Fashion, it is common practice to undertake an unpaid internship, as it is seen as a very rare occurrence when someone is employed without having taken part in at least an internship with a reputable company in the industry before applying for a job.

    Obviously, this makes me lose some faith in the way interns are treated, but, since being an intern for the first time this year, I am now prepared for any other future internships I may undertake which I will not be paid for.

    Such a great debate to start! Fantastic!