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The Sunday Times and the Internship Racket

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Is it okay to sell internships? We know that the Conservative Party certainly thinks so. Their charity ball last year raised tens of thousands of pounds flogging off plum internships in finance, industry and the media to Tory donors.

Cases like that one immediately invoke repulsion, but what if the money raised is going to a good cause?

Take a look at this now-elapsed charity auction raising money for an extremely worthy cause. There were 50 lots, selling all manner of sparkly items and experiences. Some of the most popular lots though were those selling work experience placements and one, a two week placement at the Sunday Times, finally went for over £2820.

It sounds like a lot, but in the context of a promoting a son or daughter's fledgling career it's a small investment to make.

The internships were advertised as 'experiences'. The recipients as well as their benefactors will surely sleep easy in the knowledge not that they've bought a step up in life, but simply a worthwhile 'experience'. The word is evasive, equating a market in internships to one in any other leisurely activity. Of course we all know it isn't.

Can one imagine a society in which jobs - especially the lucrative, coveted ones - were auctioned off, rather than allocated on the basis of merit? A country in which young people scour the Sunday supplements in search of a profession they can afford to enter, rather than one they might excel in? No, but in a more insidious way it remains the state we are in. A tight jobs market requires applicants to have interned, for which they must typically have performed unremunerated labour or, as these ugly cases represent, bought outright.

Sellling off internships stinks; it is intrinsically immoral. There can be no justification for it. Yet in the fiercest job market for young people since the early 1980s young people are in no position to end the practice.