Government Internship Scheme mistakes

As no doubt many of you will be aware, the controversial subject of Internships has sparked much debate within the past year or so. It’s been fuelled by US graduates who worked for huge international companies – Fox and Conde Nast instantly spring to mind – filing lawsuits insisting they were putting in a 12 hour day in some cases and receiving no financial compensation.

While I certainly don’t agree with exploiting graduates and other interns I’m not convinced the whole concept of companies having to pay graduates minimum wage across the board – especially when it comes to micro businesses and small businesses – is a good one. And that’s because, unlike the huge conglomerates out there, smaller companies simply cannot afford to pay for interns.

Nobody wins

So does that mean that small businesses have to lose out on the valuable – and sometimes crucial – creative skills and knowledge that a graduate intern can bring them? And conversely, should graduates be penalized by losing out on valuable hands-on experience and networking that working for an SME can result in?

And not only that, does it mean that the state should be forced to pick up the tab for graduates’ living expenses in terms of welfare benefits? Of course graduates, like others in society who are unemployed, are entitled to benefits. But under the Job Seekers Allowance Work Programme which kicks in after a several months unemployment, many graduates are forced to take jobs or undergo ‘training’ in areas where their skills are being under-utilized because they are pushed them into unskilled employment. Who is winning in this scenario? No one, to my mind.

I’m not sure the government has thought this whole minimum wage and internships debate through properly. In fact I’m convinced they haven’t.

Every day I meet graduates whose skills and knowledge would not just benefit small companies but in many cases provide them with the boost they need to exceed current productivity and earning potential. Unfortunately the small companies can’t afford these valuable graduates and the huge conglomerates don’t want them because of a lack of experience. It’s a perfect Catch 22 situation.

Confusion and fear

The whole internship scheme is mired in so much red tape these days that it is unworkable. Not only that, the rules are so complex that many companies (especially those who can’t afford a lawyer to untangle them) don’t understand the legislation in the first place. Many are frightened of being taken to court so they avoid taking on interns altogether. After all, how many small businesses can afford to fork out £5000 for falling foul of regulations?

My own sister worked for a whole year without pay in order to get the job she wanted – and now she’s a successful lawyer with her own practice. I’m not saying other graduates could afford to do that. But my sister and I both know for certain that without that experience she gained in unpaid employment it would have taken her much longer to gain the confidence, skills and contacts necessary to set up her own firm.

And that’s what good internships provide graduates – training, experience, knowledge, networking potential and the confidence to forge forward in their chosen career.

What the current internship scheme is doing is preventing our graduates from succeeding and thousands of UK businesses from growing. A rethink is long over-due wouldn’t you agree?