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The End Of Unpaid Internships? O2's Go Think Big Campaign Opens Doors For Everyone

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GOTHINKBIG
The Go Think Big scheme aims to offer work skills opportunities to thousands of young people | Alamy

Today's nepotistic society and unpaid internship trend may be coming to an end after a scheme designed to bring an end to the "who you know not what you know" culture was unveiled.

There is new hope for the unemployed graduates and school-leavers who have repeatedly had the door slammed shut on their futures due to not knowing "the right people", thanks to the launch of "GoThinkBig" on Tuesday.

"I keep getting the same experience: 'Unfortunately we have gone with someone with more experience'. How can I get experience if no-one will give me the chance?" - Emma, 23, Bromford.

The initiative, dreamt up by industry giants O2 and Bauer Media, which owns magazines such as Kerrang! Grazia and Heat, and who have invested £5m in the project, looks set to offer 30,000 work skills opportunities to young people over the next three years.

The news will no doubt be received well by the 460,000 unemployed 16 to 25-year-olds who say they have not been able to secure work skills and experience relevant to their chosen career.

Four in 10 young people believe "going to work with a family member" is currently the easiest route to securing traditional work experience.

"I feel like I am in debt for nothing. I cannot get work experience and therefore I cannot get a job." - Hannah, Devon, 21.

As only 24% of employers rate education over experience, the campaign may be just what young people need to boost their employment opportunities.

Despite the passion both companies show for advocating paid internships, CEO of O2, Ronan Dunne, says he opposes introducing any form of legislation to ban long periods of unpaid work experience.

"I would strongly discourage legislation in this area," he told HuffPost UK. "Today is a great example of why it should not happen. There are a lot of employers who are willing to go the extra distance. If you introduce legislation, businesses will only do the bare minimum required of them.

"I would prefer to be proactive.

"This initiative is trying to ensure young people get the start they need in life so they can become contributors to society.

"Young people need a better understanding of what they have to offer and where they can add value and be able to tell a future employer what they can bring to the company. Most young people have so many skills - for example digital and social media experience - but do not realise."

The issue of unpaid internships has been one which has repeatedly hit the headlines. Most recently, Now magazine was named and shamed after paying out £750 to a previous intern following a court case.

One budding journalist Libby Page shared her account of her struggle to work for free in the dog-eat-dog world of unpaid work.

"'I want to be a journalist, but I can't afford to work for free.'" A simple sentence, but it has taken me four years to find the words and confidence to write it," she wrote in her blog for HuffPost UK. "I am part of a much bigger problem, a problem that is immoral but so widespread that morality has been forgotten.

"The industry tells us: 'We would love to pay you, but we don't have the money. It is not feasible to pay interns.' Plantation owners once argued that they could not function without slaves."

Both O2 and Bauer told HuffPost UK they would not work with any company who does not pay their interns.

The GoThinkBig scheme will offer an initial 9,000 opportunities within two companies, taking the form of work experience placements, internships, apprenticeships and skills days for schoolchildren.

The hub of the programme is the website, which aims to be "a single site where thousands of opportunities are available, all in one place", with other employers encouraged to sign on.

The duo are obviously keen to wedge the door permanently open for young people from backgrounds as they insist if necessary, travel expenses will be paid for even one day's work experience.

But Dunne says he has no intentions of actively campaigning for other companies to change their intern policy.

"We need to lead by example," Dunne adds. "Company leaders don't want to be told what to do, they want to be inspired. We want to demonstrate GoThinkBig is a powerful tool for their company."

Bauer Media is keen to emphasise the benefits for the employer and the UK's economy, not just the intern.

Paul Keenan, the company's CEO, told HuffPost UK businesses desperately need young people with skills in the workplace - and it is a two-way relationship.

"I strongly believe interns should be paid but don't expect employers to pay young people for one or two weeks' worth of work experience.

"Employers need to have some support and infrastructure on how they can make the work experience they are offering relevant to real work. We believe businesses should recruit diverse work forces and not just from a select group.

"We are hoping we will raise the profile of interning and it will be beneficial for both young people looking for experience and employers."

"The best thing about this new website is Bauer and O2's commitment to ensure that all the internships they advertise that last at least two weeks are paid at least the minimum wage. It is a significant acknowledgement that no brand can claim to be on the side of young people without making their opportunities open to all, not just those who can afford to work for nothing indefinitely."

Tanya de Grunwald, founder of graduate careers website GraduateFog said: "The best thing about this new website is Bauer and O2's commitment to ensure that all the internships they advertise that last at least two weeks are paid at least the minimum wage.

"It is a significant acknowledgement that no brand can claim to be on the side of young people without making their opportunities open to all, not just those who can afford to work for nothing indefinitely."

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