The Blog

The Seductive Myth Of Internships

The myth that unpaid labour looks good on the CVs of workers in creative industries has become an increasingly persuasive means of guilt-tripping young people into working for free.

The myth that unpaid labour looks good on the CVs of workers in creative industries has become an increasingly persuasive means of guilt-tripping young people into working for free. The Telegraph reported on the thousands of unpaid internships in 2014 being pursued and rising each year. It seems we have been forced to face the slow death of our ability to achieve with high self-esteem and confidence in what is rightfully ours- recognition.

Remember the United Nations intern New Zealander, David Hyde, 22 who had to withdraw from his internship which he flew over 11,000 miles to get to? Due to media spectacle over living in a tent by Lake Geneva during his time spent working there, the international relations graduate drew world attention to the harsh living costs of the Swiss city and the little help he received from his employer. For a new graduate, he called it unbearably unaffordable to carry on. The competitive nature of the internship would make him feel lucky to have even been chosen. These internships ultimately become a luxury only for those who can afford to work for free for up to 6 months, creating a disadvantage for anyone falling below this bracket, starkly shedding light on the problem therein.

Some companies are complicit in primarily chipping at the self-confidence and self-assurance of young, ambitious, and hungry applicants before they have even applied for the high in demand position. By using language in the application process that creates a space, in which young people are made to feel fearful of the rarity in being selected. For these gold dust positions, getting the job dangerously becomes one of the few priorities and considerations made by eager graduates/students in the application process.

The candidate then becomes blind to his/her own accomplishments and achievements in being more than deserving and thus further blindsided to the financial strain and burden of the coming experience. Not to mention acceptance of potential ill-treatment from employers by abuse of time, brain power, and finance. By giving condescending menial tasks to carry out, such as coffee making, or research for time killing purposes only. Interns are then made to feel guilty for asking for something more challenging.

With all this, it is not even certain if graduates will even benefit from interning, it may even hinder their chances. As the National Association of Colleges conducted a study proving

"graduates who took an unpaid internship ended up in a job with a lower starting salary than those who hadn't interned at all".

Somewhere along the line, we have been wrongly convinced to accept being part of a,

"paradigm whereby you, in turn, become replaceable. The rolling exploitation of unpaid workers and perpetual interns is based on a false notion of deferred reward,"

The more we are accepting of these conditions the more we lose value and respect in our own intellect, integrity, and creativity. In turn, this largely impacts our view of self in the workplace, setting the tone in crippling our abilities to achieve and overall creating a very demotivating work ethic. As well as gaining a certified condescension we will not be considered as serious future contenders in the workplace. Nor will we be able to challenge ourselves beyond our own expectations or theirs in these environments.

It reminded me of the experiences of a friend who worked with a British company abroad, for a 2-month internship. She recalled feeling both bedazzled and intimidated by the experience. From the first day, It became clear she was under the responsibility of a mentor who was demotivated due to her redundancy news earlier that month, providing her intern with half-hearted knowledge and a lazy work ethic, to which my friend was still majorly appreciative of regardless. She had been working there for two weeks before she was formally introduced to the team, it took her until the day before her internship ended to speak to the company manager, even though their desks were positioned a metre away from one another.

The team she had grown accustomed to in the office were unwelcoming, unhelpful and intimidating. At times she had been drawn into office politics without consent. Further highlighting the lack of workplace rights available to interns, particularly when it came to religious or racial micro-aggressions. We feel strangled of speech when it comes to the behaviour of employers or colleagues in fears of losing the position we believed would be the keys to opening a flurry of doors for us. Or even due to inexperience these behaviours become normalised for a naive newbie.

With many stories similar to this, the dead weight of an intern becomes more and more apparent. Not all companies in creative industries are guilty of this, there have been internships I have partaken in, which have been incredibly fruitful. Nor do all employers intentionally take advantage of young avid applicants. However, there is the lack of organisation, care, legal accountability and structure in place for interns, in places where we spend a lot of our time, energy and money.

If we are not being trained actively, or leaving these internships having learned anything other than the art of busying ourselves with nothing for the space of eight hours a day, and perhaps making a contact or two. Yet paying for our own food, travel (aeroplane fare included), providing services, giving time and energy carrying out tasks. Then why do we spend time glorifying such labour? We have unfortunately become enablers to a money making industry, using us as pawns in the process of our own exploitation. I hope I can be proven wrong, to give young people more hope in their selected fields in being able to work toward their goals and ambitions alongside inspiring, positive, helpful and non-threatened mentors.

Before You Go