Even since the deluge of applications for our recent job vacancies we’ve been attuned to the subject of unpaid internships. Whilst the compelling comparison between glitzy fashion houses and their unpaid interns grabbed headlines recently (www.guardian.co.uk/fashion/2011/dec/08/fashion-labels-warned-unpaid-interns), it’s clear that unpaid internships have become a way of life throughout the creative industries (i.e. Jobs that a lot of people really want to do) – including design.
There is a clear difference between a few days work shadowing (for which payment is not expected as the benefits are clearly in one direction) and a placement where an applicant with a degree actively contributes to a studio (whether this work is used or not is a moot point, as design can be an inherently wasteful discipline). BuroCreative will always pay interns above the minimum wage. The majority of applicants we interviewed however, had been through unpaid internships, some with serious consequences on morale and attitude, others on placements of up to 6 months without pay – a long time to be work-shadowing and making tea.
Design blogs are often full of protestations at the industry not being taken seriously – from attacks on “amateur” designers undercutting professionals, to calls to end free pitching. It would be a gross hypocrisy if these were the same companies taking on interns without paying them. If businesses don’t have a moral obligation to consider how tough it is for young graduates, then they should at least have the professionalism to be run as a business – not exploiting a false economy of free labour. Our industry shouldn’t wait to be told off by HMRC, and instead act like the professional enterprise it claims to be.