The (non)instrumental character of unpaid internships: implications for regulating internships

Hunt, W., Tzanakou, C. (2021) Chapt. 6 in Book: Internships, Employability and the Search for Decent Work Experience, Edward Elgar

Internships are an established feature of the UK graduate labour market. However, while the legal position of university work placements and voluntary workers in the third sector is relatively clear, the legal position of unpaid open-market internships is less clear. While attempts have been made to bring open-market internships explicitly within national minimum wage legislation, these attempts have been blocked by lawmakers who oppose outlawing what they see as ‘invaluable’ opportunities. This chapter examines how ‘invaluable’ unpaid graduate internships really are, drawing on quantitative and qualitative data from two UK studies on graduate transitions. The findings suggest that these experiences may not always be as useful and developmental as proponents assume, do not always provide a bridge into graduate jobs and can have a financial cost (over and above loss of earnings). The implications of these findings are discussed in relation to five regulatory strategies currently employed around the world.

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