Student Room's 'Student Question Time' – Internships


With only a week to go until Britain goes to the polls, election fever has well and truly gripped the Inspiring Interns office. Foreign affairs and apparent bigotry have stolen the headlines and yet, since our last blog post on the manifestos, graduate unemployment still resides in the shadows. In a brilliant feature on The Student Room, students and graduates were invited to put their questions and qualms directly to the heads of Britain’s leading political parties. Along with some fairly trivial questions – “What would you do if you went on a Gap year today?” (If you were wondering, Gordon Brown replied that he was going to watch more films, In the Loop perhaps?) – The issue of internships was directly raised. Here are the answers that each candidate gave.

Gordon Brown

“We’ve got to support the aspirations of people from all backgrounds so that everyone can benefit from internships. And employers must respect the legal obligations they have to all people performing work experience.

Our Manifesto sets out our commitment to open up opportunity for people from families on low incomes to enter professions like the media and law, expanding paid internships for students. To increase social mobility, careers advice for young people, including for younger children, will be overhauled, ensuring much better information and guidance.

We are creating a National Internship Service to improve access to professions which will deliver undergraduate internships, with the aim of widening access to professions.

We are also providing funding for 20,000 additional postgraduate places as well as 29,000 graduate-level volunteering places and 3,000 extra places for graduate entrepreneurship and help with business start-ups.”

David Cameron

“On the specific point about politics and Parliament, we need to remember that political parties are primarily voluntary organisations, so they do depend very much on volunteers. Of course, it’s crucial that people who are keen to get involved are not taken advantage of and have the right chances to move into paid employment. But I’d warn against doing anything heavy-handed which stops volunteers offering their help.

But there’s no doubt that we do need make it easier for people from all backgrounds to get involved – especially in Parliament. There are barriers at the moment blocking people from disadvantaged backgrounds and we need to get rid of them. My Shadow Cabinet and I have been working with a charity called the Social Mobility Foundation on a fantastic project to help provide placements for under-privileged students in Parliament and other sectors, and we’ve been able to give work experience and volunteering positions in our private offices to kids who might never have had a chance before.

But there is also a wider point here, connected to the big problem of youth unemployment here in the UK. It’s unbelievable that here we are, the sixth richest country in the world, and one in five young people don’t have a job. We’ve got to get job market moving and help more young people get started in careers.

One really exciting idea we have is to create thousands of new “work-pairings”. These work-pairings would allow young people who are unemployed and stuck on benefits at the moment to go out and get some real business experience – while keeping their benefits and also earning a small income at the same time. It’s a great idea, because it will fix the big problem we’ve got at the moment where thousands of young people don’t have jobs, but also don’t have the experience they need to make themselves attractive to employers. If we win this election, getting this scheme started is a big priority for me and my team.”

Nick Clegg

“You’re right, there are now a lot of interns working very hard and getting paid little or nothing for it. The danger is ending up in a situation where internships are exclusive to those young people whose parents can afford to help them. Internships can be an amazing way of getting a flavour for a possible career when you’re young and that option should be open to as many young people as possible. I know myself how fantastic that experience can be – I got to intern in New York, working on a magazine called ‘The Nation’ for Christopher Hitchens. Opening up the opportunity to intern to more people is important to my party, and we have a plan to create 800,000 internships in our first year in office, helping all the young people now struggling to find work. We’ve made sure that those places will be paid at £55 a week – enough to cover basic costs, and more than you get collecting Job Seekers’ Allowance.”

Although not a huge leap in terms of introducing new ideas and initiatives, it is encouraging to see that it is a matter that is on their agenda. Labour appear to be the most proactive, introducing a National Internship Service which will no doubt be of benefit to graduates in their search for employment. Nick Clegg’s offer of £55 a week is great but Inspiring Interns offer that already to their interns. We pay for lunch and travel expenses (which equate to around £200 a month) and therefore equal what the Liberal Democrats are offering. David Cameron once again makes the mistake of grouping graduate unemployment with youth unemployment as a whole. The assertion that it is one and the same is a little frustrating but hopefully the discernable difference between the two can be made clear in the future. All in all, this is not the radical action that we would like to see but at least it is a step in the right direction.

Read the whole articles at The Student Room.