Intern and work experience culture is something being widely discussed at the moment. People are talking about how accessible it is, about a lack of diversity, what you gain from it, how fair it is and as a recent graduate looking for a job in the media industry, its something I’m witnessing first hand and thinking about a lot.
I understand the need for experience, that a degree only says so much and you often have to prove yourself. I know that people need to see hard work rather than just trusting you and I understand that most businesses, especially those in the media, don’t have spare cash floating around to pay you with, I realise I’m not ready to walk straight into the job of my dreams, but there’s a line.
My view is that you should get something out of work experience, the clue is in the name, it should be experience, especially if its unpaid. Ultimately, being unemployed doesn’t mean your time isn’t worth anything. It’s worth skills, insight, knowledge and even though none of those pay the bills, they are worth something. The issue arises when you’re not getting anything out of it, when you don’t feel you’re learning or being productive or bettering yourself or the organisation you’re working for. A lack of experience should not equate to a lack of respect, respect for my time, my intelligence, the experience and skills I do have. If an organisation is taking on interns, they should be sure there is something for them to do (it doesn’t necessarily have to be anything incredible, as long as its something), to learn and hopefully enjoy.
As you can probably tell, I have just done some pretty rubbish interning with a company I was really excited to work for. There was very little for me to do, the tasks I did carry out were very repetitive and uninteresting, I wasn’t given any insight into how the business worked or what each person’s role was or how the team operated. My supervisor clearly resented the fact I was her responsibility and the office culture felt unwelcoming, hierarchical and slightly arrogant. As I say, I don’t mind what I’m doing on work experience, as long as its something, but hours would pass where I was sat at a desk with nothing to do and my supervisor ignoring my messages asking if there was anything I could help with. There was a lack of economic and cultural diversity within the team, and I know that I speak from a position of privilege, but I was reminded of what a luxury London-based work experience is. The week before I started I was told my own laptop would be an ‘essential’ everyday but I know that its an ‘essential’ many don’t have. It was such a shame, a business I’ve loved and admired since I was small made me feel smaller than ever.
My thought is that for work experience to be a success, it has to be a two-way agreement that benefits both parties. There is no way that it’ll work if either the employer or the intern think they are doing the other a favour, it needs to be a mutual exchange. If you are taking on interns, make sure there is something for them to do that helps benefit you, that you have factored them into office routine while they are there, that there is something they can learn before they leave. If you’re an intern, be prepared to be busy, to do whatever is asked of you, to learn and to remind yourself of your value and end goal every so often. Ultimately, only you can decide what that end goal is worth.