More and more we are hearing that companies will only take on graduates that have completed a year in industry; but many students can only get a year in industry placement if they have previous work experience –which, unfortunately, is often unpaid. You do have to wonder why, if they are looking for people with a significant work history, they are targeting students with their recruitment.
So the pressure is on for students to gather significant and relevant work experience during their first couple of years at university, and for universities to provide opportunities for students to do this. A recent article in the Telegraph has Sir David Bell arguing that a degree should maintain its intellectual integrity rather than prepare students for the next stage of life. There is a significant argument that a university education could do both, but this aside, difficult decisions are being taken by course tutors and students every day on how much time should be spent focused on academic study and how much focused on academia. Ask yourself now – why did you go to university?
Businesses are exploiting the indecision of institutions and the fear of students. Not all of them, and not all of the time, but there are clear cases where ‘unpaid internships’ that last several months are sent to us, which are nothing more than a way for companies to get free workers. A recent action by Intern Aware has seen 100 companies accused of breaking the law by employing unpaid interns in what would otherwise be paid positions. This list has been passed to HMRC for investigation. Such a significant number of companies will attract headlines and will no doubt scare employers.
My only concern is that it will scare those trying to do the best for students and not those without a conscience who will continue to exploit desperate students.