It’s a sad fact these days that you can’t get work without experience and there is even great competition for unpaid work experience. There’s a lot of talk about the unfairness of this at the moment and employers are being accused of getting labour for free.
But proper internship isn’t about getting free labour and arguably it’s fair that the interns aren’t paid because it takes the employer longer to stop what they’re doing and show the intern how to do it. The intern is also given some training.
How much the intern can gain from their experience depends on what the employer is actually offering.
It’s quite common for internships with publishers to last a couple of weeks. The intern does indeed do the coffee run but s/he gets to sit next to an experienced worker and watches some of the important action, joining in it from time to time.
At The Red Telephone and Bridge House we’ve done this a little differently. We haven’t invited them into the office – we don’t have one. We all work from home. Five interns have worked for five hours a week for fifteen months, swapping roles every three months. They have worked on submissions and enquiries, and taken it in turns to aid the three partners. They’ve been copied into all but the truly confidential emails. They’ve written acceptances and rejections on our behalf and sometimes sent out contracts. They’ve even, under supervision, helped with the selection and editing of texts.
We haven’t been able to adhere to our rota too rigidly – one partner left, one intern found a job with a magazine and another with a radio station. At times there has been less work on offer. At other times we could have found them much more to do. But they always set to willingly and they have all done well. Even the ones who found paid work managed still to do some work for us. We wish we could offer them full time work but we can’t.
However, we are prepared to give them glowing references and we’ve added them to our list of free-lancers whom we do pay.