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Fairness demands end to unpaid internships

The other day I was talking to a friend, also retired, and, as so often happens, talk turned to how fortunate we were compared with young people seeking work today. We were both journalists who had got our first job without further eduction.

Our employers gave us paid time to study for the National Council for the Training of Journalists Certificate. Since then the industry has passed the costs and responsibility for training as journalists on to the state and individuals.

Worse still the employers who used to pay a wage to the greenest trainee demand that people who have done a first degree and a post graduate qualification, work for free. They call it an internship.

No wonder the National Union of Journalists has launched a cashback for interns campaign. Fiona O’Cleirigh explains in today’s Media Guardian how the union is encouraging former interns to sue for unpaid wages.

Once, graduates could apply directly to employers for training and work. Thomson newspapers, then one of the biggest names in British journalism, owning the Scotsman and the Times as well as a string of regional papers, ran its own training school.

Graduates who successfully applied first went to the company training school in Newcastle for an intensive course and were then sent to one of the group’s papers.

I worked for Thomson alongside graduate trainees including John Coldstream, Stephen Pile, Anthony Holden and Melanie Phillips.

If they were starting work today, they would have to pay for post graduate diploma or MA and then face lengthy periods as interns unless they were very lucky.

The result is that as well as conversations about how lucky we were, I often hear from friends about the long-continuing financial support their children need.

There is a belief that an MA will solve everything. But is a second degree really really the appropriate way of training journalists. Having worked on university journalism courses I have spent long hours dressing up course documents with jargon to make what are really vocational courses sound academic.

Harlow College was the premier place for journalism training in the 1960s and still has a high repletion. It was a remains an FE college.

The prospects for righting the injustice of internships does not seem good. There are even suggestions that police recruits could be required to spend a year working as a volunteer special constable before being able to even apply for paid work.

Freelance journalist John Slattery writes about internships, but the same issues apply in a jug range of jobs as the Interns Anonymous blog shows.

David Cameron along with almost every politician is an advocate of “fairness” but I doubt if he will do anything to end the scandal of unpaid internships. As the police example shows his policies are likely to make it worse.

It is not only unfair on those who work for nothing but on those who do not have parents able to subsidies their search for work. Journalism and, I believe, other jobs have become available only to the children of relatively wealthy middle class parents.

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