As a university student, internships are a useful resource. Students aren't always sure which field they want to go into when they finish their degree, and that's perfectly okay. Most people don't plan their lives chronologically start to finish. That's why internships are valuable. They are essentially a 'free trial', if you will, to gain experience in a chosen field without getting bogged down by a contract. An internship can be done over the summer and, even if you decide the chosen field wasn't right for you, it still gives your CV crucial experience which can be a vital stepping stone in obtaining an actual paying job after your degree.
I am aware that Employment Minister Damian Hinds has stated that the government is considering scrapping unpaid internships, but I find this problematic. Taking my pro-internship stance aside, what separates an internship from a voluntary position? What about sectors such as charities which require unpaid volunteers to help run the tremendous work they do in this country and beyond? It will be difficult to enforce as the lines are thin.
Also, we've all been in the classic predicament: I need experience to get a job, but I have no job to get experience from. Internships can provide a crucial means to getting that experience. Reputable companies such as Google, Microsoft, J.P. Morgan etc all offer internships. Albeit some of the internships offered are, of course, unpaid, but before crying "exploitation!" it's imperative to take a step back and take a look at what these companies are offering.
They are under no obligation to offer these internships and, if the government banned them, they're not exactly going to kick up a fuss about it (I'm sure the lovely people at Google are capable of making coffee themselves after-all). Companies such as Google are going out of their way to offer programmes for university students/graduates to give them free industry experience which will be valuable on a CV. Even if, as I haphazardly remarked earlier, you spend most of the time making or going on coffee runs and doing other remedial tasks, it still benefits you in two ways:
1. Your CV will be bolstered by having a reputable company on it (with a reference in most cases). Imagine if you're applying for a job in the tech sector and your interviewer gets a great reference from Google about you? If that doesn't scream "employ me!" then I don't know what will.
2. It provides crucial networking opportunities. Are Google not hiring when you finish your internship? Oh no, luckily for you your former Google boss' friend at YouTube is and you receive a brilliant recommendation for the position. Would such an opportunity (aside from nepotism) be available elsewhere in the world?
Those against my stance on internships believe they are unfair because of their lack of pay which means those that cannot afford living costs are exempt, but I find this a weak argument.
Firstly, many companies offer scholarships which means they will subsidise living costs if you can prove to them your exceptional capabilities as a candidate. Secondly, I fear if internships are scrapped then fellow students like myself won't receive these opportunities from companies and as a result we will find it more difficult to obtain a job as the company has no obligation to hire us because if they were to do so it would mean we have to go on their payroll. Internships provide crucial opportunities for all and, without them, I fear unemployment rates will rise as a result.