I was contacted recently by a journalist working for a national newspaper writing a piece about unpaid interns. He wanted to know how their use is perceived in each industry and was interested in PR because our sector has had some issues in the past.

By Richard Stone

I was about to fire off my typical response, saying that I thought the problems lie in sectors like fashion PR and with large London based agencies. I was going to tell him that we technology PR people are largely free of guilt, when something made me stop and think. 

The biggest issue is the entire question of what an intern really is. It's come to mean both 'unpaid skivvy' and 'temporary member of staff who is fully paid as normal but happens to be either a graduate or undergraduate'.

The problem is the former definition - because unpaid skivvy is not really a morally sound or financially sustainable way for a business to operate. Neither is it practical for the intern - because they effectively have to pay for the opportunity to be offered a job one day, if they do OK in the interim.

The CIPR (Chartered Institute of PR) has done some work to stamp out unpaid internships in the UK. However, there are still lots of them around. I know of agencies who staff the business with several unpaid interns simultaneously with no prospect of any of them ever being offered paid work at all.

Our experience
Stone Junction has recently recruited two graduate account executives. Of the 100 or so CVs I received, nearly ten per cent included 'work experience' as an intern at the same agency in Manchester.

When I researched the company I found that their blog was made up almost entirely of 'interns' describing how their week or month working at the business had been.

Of the graduates I interviewed who had worked there, all of them disclosed that the internship had been unpaid.

I believe it's entirely morally wrong for any business to use unpaid labour, with the possible exception of someone doing a week's work experience whilst studying for their GCSEs.

I also believe that businesses that use this kind of fundamentally unsound method of staffing are fooling themselves by making profit using a labour base that could just turn around one day and say 'no thanks - we are wise to your tricks'.

I think this is something that could really do with exposing in the aforementioned national journalist's article. That said, it probably won't make me very popular in the PR industry :-)

For the record, Stone Junction has paid every 'intern' we have ever had.  

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