What price work experience?


With unemployment among 18 to 24 year-olds nudging a million, and all manner of statistics showing that social mobility is neither what it was nor what it should be (arguably), the question of how young people secure company internships and work experience has become a resonant one.

You will recall the issue became politically charged not that long ago, with messrs Cameron and Clegg not exactly speaking as one about whether it is unfair and economically harmful for employers to give work experience to the children of mates (PM and deputy disagree on interns).

Many of us may be hypocrites about this. On the one hand, any employer knows that fishing for talent in the broadest and deepest talent pool is best for his or her business.

On the other hand, it is hard to resist the pleadings of old friends or business associates, desperate for their kids to be doing something a bit more productive than exchanging not-so-profound reflections about the world on Facebook when not studying.

And, of course, the lazy propensity in all of us encourages us to bring into our own work environments the children from the backgrounds and families we know, rather than someone whose credentials are only on paper.

So I was intrigued by an email from a London-based charity, which was forwarded to me by an outraged well-heeled parent.

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Many people will be shocked by the idea that money can so directly and crudely secure possible career advantage for the children of the rich”

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This charity has taken the ancient practice of trading summer internships for assorted favours to its logical conclusion: it has created a market in them.

The charity is called the Second Half Centre, a drop-in centre for older people in London, and it is the brainchild of Jill Shaw Ruddock, a former banker and author of a book that accentuates the positives of life after menopause.

Prospective bidders

The enterprising Ms Ruddock persuaded seven businesses - in finance, fashion, architecture, art and publishing - to offer work placements which she could auction.

The participating companies are Net-a-Porter, ISSA, Oppenheimer, Man Group, Amanda Levete Architect, Peters Fraser & Dunlop and the Gagosian Gallery.

Her note to prospective bidders said:

"You may have already organised work experience for your son or daughter, but you probably have quite a few friends who haven't yet. I would be grateful if you could either PLACE A BID or FORWARD THIS EMAIL on to friends who have children 16 years of age or older...

"Please start the bidding at whatever level you think appropriate... Any internship can be secured immediately with a firm bid of £5,000".

So there you have it: the market price of a short internship for a teenager is £5,000. And after the auction closed, Ms Ruddock had raised around £30,000 (so her representative told me).

Now to state the obvious, many people will be shocked by the idea that money can so directly and crudely secure possible career advantage for the children of the rich.

To be clear, spending a week with Man Group or Oppenheimer is no guarantee of a future massive income in the City. But it provides the intern with valuable knowledge and contacts. And it looks good on a CV.

So the five grand does buy a leg up. And to state the bloomin' obvious, if all internships were sold, then those brought up in social housing or on council estates could say goodbye to any hope of obtaining direct personal experience of work in a top company while young.

The dad who sent me Ms Ruddock's email felt nauseated by the trade.

Honesty and clarity

But I am not sure his reaction is reasonable. He routinely gives a few days desirable work experience in his own respected and high-paying firm to the children of chums.

Money may not be changing hands in his case, but there is still the valuable if intangible trade in favours owed and given.

There is an argument that Ms Ruddock has simply brought some honesty and clarity to this transaction - and made some money for a good cause in the process (she says she has to find imaginative ways to raise money, because only 10% of her funding comes from the public sector).

What she has shown, arguably, is that the process of allocating internships is staggeringly inefficient and unfair, reinforcing the advantages of the haves and further marginalising the have-nots.

Many would say that when a summer work placement can be sold to the rich for £5,000 a go, it shows that the system of allocating desirable placements badly needs cleaning up.

Robert Peston Article written by Robert Peston Robert Peston Economics editor

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  • rate this

    Comment number 105.

    A weeks experience? What use is that? Six months minimum!

  • rate this

    Comment number 104.

    What of the individuals gaining from this?

    They display no sense of honesty or integrity, or independance, and thus effectively declare themselves unfit to employed by a reputable employer afterwards.
    Anyone moving into an adult world while continuing to be entirely dependant on Mater & Pater is just a wasted life.

  • rate this

    Comment number 103.

    I wonder if internships are the cause of the problems this country is now suffering with regard to the Banks & the Finance Industry. Too many people rising to the top of the tree (entering via internships not merit). I wonder how some people manage to get these high powered high paid jobs when half of them have no common sense at all. Even when they fail they seem to get extremely high payoffs.

  • rate this

    Comment number 102.

    The only big changes to advance British society happen during a catastrophe

    WW1 gave us the representation of the people act which let people vote

    WW2 gave us the NHS, Welfare decent Housing and Education

    Nowadays... after 70 years of peace... we're right back to the upper class twit system we had in the 1930s

  • rate this

    Comment number 101.

    This practice is morally wrong as are zero hour’s contracts.

    It won’t be long before employers cut out the middleman/woman, extend the work experience period to (say) a rolling year and make money doing nothing at all.

  • rate this

    Comment number 100.

    A friend has been unemployed since leaving school. All she gets offered is "work experience" (working for an employer for nothing) or work placements (likewise). Nothing positive has come out of her commitment to work and learn. Her job applications are fruitless because of lack of "previous experience". And there was me thinking that slavery had been abolished! Employers are on to a good thing!

  • rate this

    Comment number 99.

    For sale,one Internship. £5000. For that, I will teach you how to sign on,handle rejection, not punch patronising jobcentre staff, look for non existent jobs, and of course, smile, when you are crying inside.

  • rate this

    Comment number 98.

    91. kaybraes

    Not sure if directed at me but

    RE my post #48

    I actually worked for that bank (before I got on grad scheme soon after with international company)

    Its not just other candidates who lose out

    The Bank had an awful IT system, it was unprofitable for years..got took over soon afterwards, thousands lost jobs, shareholders lost money etc

    Having unqualified people certainly wouldnt help

  • rate this

    Comment number 97.

    Whole charity sounds like a front or a tax evasion scam of the highest order

  • rate this

    Comment number 96.

    I just love the irony of effectively paying for a job.

    Obviously, this can create a "foot in the door" position, but it's still comical.

  • rate this

    Comment number 95.

    Sadly predictable. I have worked in the public sector, the private sector and the voluntary sector. The charity was the most corrupt organisation I worked for. Riddled with nepotism and hypocrasy. In all organisations I have worked for the qualities that got people promoted (other than powerful friends) were stupidity and nastiness.

  • rate this

    Comment number 94.

    It's not the employers who are at fault here - they believe that they are helping the charity to make money.
    It's the money grabbing CEO - if she had opened a raffle where everyone paid £1 and there was a cap on tickets per household - that would have been equal.
    I do hope that this charity isn't getting public funding - they have no morals

  • rate this

    Comment number 93.

    @86 "Simple Darwinism"

    Create a society lead by half-wits who bought their way into power?

    There is darwinism here, but it's not what you think. It's the eventual self extinction of the human race.

    Allowing the weak to lead and the strong (mentally or physically) to fall, supporting those who should have fallen, it only serves to weaken our chances of survival as a species.

  • rate this

    Comment number 92.

    No one show be required to work for nothing. Anyone concerned with intern-ships seeds reminding that they are breaking the law and are to expect prison sentences.

    It has always been the the case of it is not what you know but who! Just look at the cabinet - none could run a whelk stall you - our system lets them run the country.

    I am a firm believer in a national maximum income. To stop abuse.

  • rate this

    Comment number 91.

    Didn't get the job, somebody there for interview was related to somebody in high places. Yeah right , nothing to do perhaps with somebody else being better than you ? What a bunch of "feel sorry for oneself " moaners we see here , looking for someone else to blame for their own inadequacies. Why would anyone want to employ people who think the world owes them , " because they're worth it " ?

  • rate this

    Comment number 90.


    If I could write that cheque, I'd do it without a second thought.

    We look after our own - My kids are mine, so I'll always put their interests first.

    As it is, I give all the time and support I can, extra tuition, but if an internship gets them through a golden door, damned right I'd pay for it - if it gets them a City job, my £5k'd be peanuts - a worthwhile gamble.

  • rate this

    Comment number 89.

    Our Society is like several big bucket of crabs.

    All fighting to get to the top and pulling down anyone in front of us.

    You see it everywhere from children sleeping over to be the first to read the latest Harry Potter, to discussions on HYS websites.

    Our life chances seem to depend on the quality of the Bucket you start in.

  • rate this

    Comment number 88.

    I wonder whether the experience would be so valuable if it was on the CV as: "Week's internship with PrestigeCo paid for by my Dad, £5k."
    I wouldn't want to work with some people even if they had to pay me, although I've never had to consider a serious offer before!

  • rate this

    Comment number 87.

    It is why our country is run by rich fools who can't tie their own laces without 3 aides and a butler, they have greased their way up the ladder, secret handshakes and pay offs all around, the day we get people in the job with the right skills for the job and maybe we start climbing out of the hole the country is in and get back on our feet, 30m workforce and we can't break even!! Seriously??

  • rate this

    Comment number 86.

    Simple Darwinism. Create an evolutionary advantage for your own offspring. That's the way it is. If I can afford to give my kids a leg up when the time comes then I will absolutely do so. Equality will play no part in that, because equality in it's true sense does not and will not happen.


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