I liked columnist and writer, Allison Pearson’s view on UK Deputy PM Nick Clegg’s social mobility strategy plans reported in the UK press this week. Clegg said he wanted to reverse the unpaid internship culture that favoured the wealthy and well-connected.
Pearson pointed out: “Fairness is the new buzzword for politicians, yet string-pulling is to our ruling elite what rain is to Swansea. It’s the prevailing climate, whether you’re Left or Right.”
Last month a black British journalist who has been working in the US media for more than a decade told me she preferred working in America because there were more opportunities for people like her than in the UK. She told me she did not think she would have made it to a senior rank like she had in the States, in the UK. (Although, the trade-off was a general lack of intellectualism and an inappropriate amount of deference to authority figures in the US media, she added!)
Yet the U.S. has its own problems in this area. Coincidentally, last week there was debate around a new book published here called “Intern Nation: How to Earn Nothing and Learn Little in the Brave New Economy” by a researcher at the Himalayan Languages Project, Ross Perlin. He writes: “Colleges and universities have become cheerleaders and enablers of the unpaid internship boom, failing to tell young people of their rights or protect them from the miserly calculus of employers. In hundreds of interviews with interns over the past three years, I found dejected students resigned to working unpaid for summers, semesters and even entire academic years — and, increasingly, to paying for the privilege.”
On both sides of the Atlantic, the more wealthy and well-connected are likely to survive while doing these internships. But in the US the point is that interns are exploited to weaken the leverage of existing employees trying to find work in the current economy – i.e. professionals, which others may refer to as the jilted generation.