Graduates paying to work for free

A young man passing by a Jobcentre Plus
Image caption Youth unemployment hit 1.02 million in the three months to September

Internships can offer a boost to eager graduates looking to a start a career - but is it fair to ask young people to pay for their work experience?

When Roz Tuplin graduated in 2010 she thought that a post-graduate degree in English Literature would be good grounding for a job in the media.

She knew she would have to gain work experience, but after a year of trying to get a placement, she has decided to pay employers £65 a day to let her through the door.

"It seems to be the way things are going," she said.

"It is essential that you have that experience but it's just the way things are these days - nothing is for free."

Ms Tuplin, 23, from Wirral, will be paying £260 for a four-day work experience placement with a TV production company in London.

Young and jobless in numbers

75 million
or 12.6%

of young people are
unemployed worldwide

Three times

more likely to be jobless

7.5 million

are not in education or training

Youth unemployment is highest in

North Africa - 27.9%

and lowest in

East Asia - 9%

Access to internships, many said to have been arranged through well-connected parents, has been an area of controversy.

In April, Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg said the schemes were unfair on the less well-off and the common practice of making young people work for nothing is barring entry to those from poorer backgrounds.

Although Ms Tuplin has saved to pay for the work experience she recognises that she is in a privileged position.

She said: "I feel that social mobility is very much affected by the fact that you can pay - it makes a big difference.

"I earned the money working in a temporary job and it seemed to me that it is a sensible way to spend it rather than on shoes and clothes.

"I know people who have done interning who work in the media and arts and a big part of it is actually networking, that you are going to meet the right people and it's something you can put on your CV."

As thousands of young people are already working for free, Ms Tuplin says applying for placements is now as hard as applying for a job.

Image caption Roz Tuplin is hoping that paying for work experience will help her get a job

She said: "I graduated in 2010 and now I'm in competition with the latest batch of 2011 graduates. It's a nightmare and really tough.

"The key is to work really hard and I think certainly at the bottom of the internship ladder where I'm starting it is very important to be happy to do the little jobs.

"I see it as you are marking yourself out as someone who is very keen."

She says she will continue to pay for placements until she secures her dream job.

The paid placement is organised by web based agency Etsio who match graduates with companies - as long as they are willing to pay up to £100 a day.

Chief executive Kit Sadgrove said: "A lot of small companies are not willing to take on, especially in this economic climate.

"It sweetens the pill for those very small businesses if they have to lose a bit of productivity. We pay them money to take people on for work experience. It means they are more likely to take people on.

"The amount of money involved is incredibly small. Graduates these days are going to be paying £40,000 for a university education. I don't think £65 a day is much to get practical real world experience.

"In the past it has really been about networks - who your mum and dad knew that could get you into business. These placements really open up opportunities to everyone who doesn't have those benefits."

'Shutting door in face'

Ben Lyons, co-director of Intern Aware, a campaign for fair access to internships, said: "We campaign hard against unpaid internships because they exclude the vast majority of young people who cannot afford to work for free.

"There is something even more perverse about expecting young people to have to pay to work.

"Etsio is shutting the door in the face of hard-working and talented young people who have played by the rules but need a salary to support themselves.

"By making the work experience required by so many employers available only to those with deep pockets, Etsio are increasing youth unemployment.

"The government's own lawyers have warned work without pay is often illegal and HMRC should be investigating companies which offer unpaid and paid-for internships."

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