Brighton business leaders to debate unpaid internships and work experience

Posted On 16 Oct 2013 at 8:58 am

Business leaders across Brighton and Hove are to discuss the merits of unpaid internships and work experience this evening (Wednesday 16 October).

They are taking part in the Big Debate – one of a series of quarterly debates organised by the Brighton and Hove Chamber of Commerce.

The debate – Never mind a living wage, what about no wage at all? – is taking place at City College in Pelham Street, Brighton.

Those taking part will be asked

  • When is it okay to take on a volunteer for your business?
  • What should businesses do to ensure that both the volunteer and the business benefits?
  • How do you get experience in your chosen field – is it a case of who you know?
  • What if you don’t know anyone influential in the field you want to work in?
  • Is volunteering the answer?
  • Is it morally wrong to have unpaid internships bolster the health and social care sector as well as the creative and media industry?
  • Are there legal issues that businesses need to consider?
  • When is it okay to volunteer your time and are volunteers replacing paid workers?
  • Do unpaid internships lead to jobs for the select few who can afford to work for free for six months or a year?
  • What are the pros and cons for businesses involved in paid internship or apprenticeship schemes?

The Chamber said: “The Big Debate will look at all of the issues around unpaid work and whether it’s ever okay to not pay someone for a day’s work.

“You can’t get a job without skills and experience. You can’t get skills and experience without a job.

“This Catch 22 situation has existed for a long time but, with UK unemployment at 7.8 per cent, competition for jobs has never been higher.

“So how do we make work experience more accessible to everyone?

The debate will start with  panel of four people setting out their points of view for and against unpaid internships and work experience and exploring the issues surrounding the subject.

The discussion will then be opened up to the floor, giving everyone else the chance to have their say.

Those taking part include

  • Paula O’Shea, the managing director of Brighton Journalist Works
  • Sam Rhodes, student services manager (career development) at Brighton University Careers Service
  • Vicki Hughes, founder and director of Fugu PR
  • Tony Mernagh, executive director of the Brighton and Hove Economic Partnership

The debate will be chaired by Chamber president Julia Chanteray. Rob Shepherd, of the Press Dispensary, and Andy Winter, the chief executive of Brighton Housing Trust (BHT), will summarise the arguments on both sides of the debate.

Paula O’Shea said: “We help to place around 60 students a year in journalism work experience at a range of publications including The Argus, Esquire magazine, Time Out and the Mail on Sunday.

“If properly managed, placements are a valuable part of the learning process.

“We don’t leave students to arrange their own work experience as they don’t have the knowledge or contacts to do so. We do.

“Our internships are structured so each student is welcomed, guided and is given work at an appropriate level – and when the employers have jobs coming up they give them  to the students who did best on work experience.

“So a well-run internship programme like ours is good for employers, as they recruit tried and trusted people, and good for the students as they get bylines for their portfolios, published work and access to contacts and jobs.

“We work with a huge range of media organisations from the BBC, the Chamber of Commerce to local newspapers – and both sides understand the importance of building that partnership.

“Editors visit us for talks, journalists come in to lead workshops and students go out to do placements.

“Work experience is just one small but important part of creating the journalists of the future.”

Sam Rhodes said: “All university careers services have to grapple with the issue of unpaid internships.

“On the one hand at Brighton we have students from creative arts and media courses whose only opportunity to do valuable work experience is to do it unpaid as a ‘runner’ or a studio assistant.

“On the other hand we know that only students with connections and/or the means to work for nothing are able to take up such opportunities for longer than two to three weeks.

“We refuse to support unpaid internships for longer than this period on the grounds of equality and not just exploitation.”

Andy Winter speaking for work experience and unpaid internships, said: “Of course in an ideal world everyone would want people on work experience to be paid the Living Wage. But we are a long way from that.

“I draw a distinction between large multinationals, banks and glossy London PR agencies that provide work opportunities to the children of the rich and the very rich, and organisations like Brighton Housing Trust which is offering real opportunities for people with a history of homelessness who few other employers would even look at.

“Those going through our intern programme get proper experience and many go on to get proper jobs.

“If someone wants to give us a shed-load of cash, they can have proper pay, the Living Wage, while they are training.”

Vicki Hughes said: “It seems to me that paid internships are the only way forward if we are to have a truly democratic workplace and access to the best potential candidates in the longer term.”

The debate, from 6pm to 8.30pm, is being sponsored by Martin Searle solicitors.

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