Why are so many graduates being forced to work for free?

    Sophie Bishop is a fashion journalism student at Southampton Solent University. In today’s guest blog, she look at the dilemma facing already cash-strapped students who are forced to take unpaid internships to gain the work experience they need. You can also follow Sophie on Twitter @sophie_leigh20 or read her blog.

    It’s not exactly breaking news that companies all over the country are hiring interns on a daily basis and not paying them a penny for their work. Although this causes an array of problems for students such as myself – a final-year fashion journalism student, with little money who does not live in London – the only way it will ever stop is if everyone agrees to decline these placements unless they are paid, which let’s face it, is never going to happen.

    So what are you supposed to do? The first thing most potential employers look for is experience and nowadays the only way to get that experience is to work for free. It’s a vicious circle that will either leave you skint or heading back home to work at the local café to save some money.

    I have been applying for work experience placements and internships pretty much from day one and, to be honest, I have been offered more than enough that I have had to turn down because of money being tight. A one-week placement doesn’t seem beneficial enough, but anything more than two weeks is too costly. One company, knowing I did not live in London, had the cheek to tell me they only take on interns for six to nine months at a time, for £10 a day (expenses). How anyone can afford to commute around London every day for £50 a week is beyond me, let alone those who need to pay rent as well. It was an offer I quickly declined.

    Some companies will offer to pay expenses, usually just for travel at around £7 per day. If you don’t already live in London, where all the fashion magazines seem to be based, £7 a day definitely doesn’t cut it. So begins the debate as to whether it is worth splashing out on a placement or whether you should carry on applying for paid jobs and internships in the hope that something crops up.

    For me, I have only been on one unpaid placement with my local newspaper, which only cost me £2.50 a day for five days. This was a perfect opportunity to gain general journalism experience but, unfortunately, Southampton doesn’t have a lot to offer in terms of fashion journalism. With everything being based in London, it makes it impossible for someone who doesn’t live there and who doesn’t have a lot of spare change, to get the experience they need.

    To bulk out my CV I am always applying to contribute to online magazines, which has proved quite successful so far, as I have now had my work published on many different platforms. While this is getting my work seen and showing I can write for different audiences, it isn’t the hands-on office experience that I need.

    I started saving as soon as I went to University, in preparation for what might happen next. I have also lined up a few unpaid placements for the summer when my course ends, as I feel that going home to live with my parents and back to my old job just isn’t productive.

    Like all other graduates, I desperately want a job in my desired industry and will do anything it takes to get there. If only these companies could see how difficult it is and offer graduates a chance, even if it was just at minimum wage.  I have so much respect for the companies that do pay their interns and value the work they are doing.


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