Stepping stones or trapdoors? Paid and unpaid graduate internships in the creative sector

Wil Hunt and Peter Scott (2023), British Journal of Sociology in Education

Policy discourse on graduate internships rests on the assumption that, paid or unpaid, they improve the employability of interns. Employing data from a survey of UK creative and mass communications graduates, surveyed two to six years after graduation, this article examines the impact of graduate internships on subsequent job prospects. While paid internships are associated with better pay and increased chances of having a creative or graduate-level job, unpaid internships are not, and are associated with lower pay in the short to medium term. Findings contribute to theory by challenging the ‘stepping stone’ view of unpaid internships and much policy discussion about these. Results reinforce, with enhanced specificity about the role internships play in the graduate labour market, theories that characterise the graduate labour market as a ‘positional’ hierarchy of opportunities rather than a labour market that is essentially meritocratic in nature.

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