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 405.

    No banking reform, no change from the norm, same old same old.

    Anyone watch the pageantry (pantomime) of the Queens speech. What a diabolical waste of money.

    The ordinary man/woman had been born into serfdom in Britain. The welfare state has been massively abused, those who pay in don't get value for money, those that don't do.

    Britain's economy has been a slow motion car crash for 30yrs+

  • rate this

    Comment number 404.

    As to the article itself - there has always been "the haves" and the "have nots". It was also the case that UK had (still has?) the "class system" that is none too far removed from "India's Caste System".

    Since feudal times, any lower class reaching the dizzy height of wealth still was not respected.

    Nadine Dorries:
    "two arrogant posh boys who don't know the price of milk"

    Works both ways;-)!

  • rate this

    Comment number 403.

    I would be pleased if the BBC would conduct an impartial costing

    To see how much it actually costs just to EXIST in the UK.
    This is to estimate a living wage that can ensure all of modern necessities are paid for.

    Water Fuel Food Rent is normal but what about Council tax benefits?
    These should have to be paid IN FULL.
    A "minimum wage" should be inclusive of benefit costs needing to be paid.

  • rate this

    Comment number 402.

    My parents were a groundsman, and a housewife. I'm one of 8 kids, now in my mid 30's. All kids are working and paying tax.

    I went to Uni despite my dad wanting me to get a job at 18. I paid for it, got a 1st class degree from Leeds in Biology, then a Masters in Comp.Sci and worked for eight years at GSK. Then they outsourced most jobs to India. No point pushing yourself working class kid.

  • rate this

    Comment number 401.

    400 FG - I apologise. Not offended just tempted to hyperbole. At the heart of the matter I suppose I cant get that worked up about internships but I've never been on the receiving end. For me a bigger issue is the allocation of capital to SME's and setting up a gold star technical education - which should be rebranded - ('apprentice' gives the wrong messages) and yes improving management skills.

  • rate this

    Comment number 400.

    FBL - 400ch doesn't help. I've had long experience of weak management in the UK in the private sector - valuable specialist skills are lost to us all the time because of it. I've hung on grimly for my own personal reasons but I am in the process of getting out at present. Hence - very angry. I always enjoy your posts and I apologise for any accidental offence

  • rate this

    Comment number 399.

    397 FG - german economic strength is the mittlestand not corporates. They are mostly private (often family) owned. They employ 70% of the workforce with a well developed apprentice system. Some employ professional management. The allocation of capital by small german banks is critical. They don't spend too much time obsessing on the morality of work experience for family & friends. What buffoons.

  • rate this

    Comment number 398.

    396 FG I have over 35 yrs experience in business, a degree in engineering, a higher post graduate qualification in management plus a bunch of other diplomas. I've been involved in successful businesses on most continents. I got started when my mum knew someone looking for a fitters mate in the summer shut down. I suppose I must be one of the 'amateur buffoons` you are talking about ?

  • rate this

    Comment number 397.

    396 Germany doesn't have a managerial class across its corporates that originates in the sharp elbowed antics of the old school tie brigade

    Unpaid internships for dolts just back off their gap yah are a symptom AND a cause

    Attempts to introduce merit or competence are ferociously resisted by the same people who go on about the free market. There IS no free market hence people are so angry

  • rate this

    Comment number 396.

    394 - FG organisation of industry is different to the question of internships. Germany isn't obsessed by equality it has achieved a pragmatic social settlement focused on production. The UK has conducted a rolling (largely theoretical) debate on ' equality' and produced a debt based society focused on consumption. Whilst we are debating internships they are producing.

  • rate this

    Comment number 395.

    Isn't it just natural to use any advantage you have to get yourself ahead?

    its like saying that person A has a car but decides not to use it because its not fair to person B who doesn't own one...

    and what parent doesn't want their kids to have a better life, and if paying for an internship does that, they'd do it

  • rate this

    Comment number 394.

    "Social mobility has stopped dead since the 1960's in no small part due to obsession with equality. "

    Here, maybe. Not elsewhere.

    Still, what have we got to learn from Germany?

    Far better to leave things in the hands of the amateur under-educated buffoons who have wrecked British industry over the decades rather than aspire to contemptible nonsense about 'equality'. Or 'competence'. Or 'merit'

  • rate this

    Comment number 393.

    Perhaps a more palatable solution would be for the businesses to bid for the intern? That way the business is making a charitable donation whilst giving some valuable experience to the intern. Prospective interns can apply to the charity to be auctioned off and selected on merit rather than upbringing or background. Many companies have space for more than one intern so allow one this way

  • rate this

    Comment number 392.

    Family network will always be a factor in job allocation be it for internship or helping out at the hair salon but is this the problem ?Social mobility has stopped dead since the 1960's in no small part due to obsession with equality. If your key political concern is that no-one is unfairly 'left behind' then why are you surprised when the advance of all turns into the advance of none.

  • rate this

    Comment number 391.

    390. Shame. You OK?

  • rate this

    Comment number 390.

    Now then. Let me guess! Seems like the writing is not on the wall for very long these days. Never mind. Life still goes on for us mere workers. Still waiting for Armageddon...

  • Comment number 389.

    All this user's posts have been removed.Why?

  • rate this

    Comment number 388.

    I am older then 24 so I really don't care

  • Comment number 387.

    All this user's posts have been removed.Why?

  • Comment number 386.

    All this user's posts have been removed.Why?


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