Time to end shocking treatment of interns

Our front-page story last week uncovering the PR industry's exploitation of interns touched a nerve. Or seven.

Ruth Wyatt: 'There are youngsters who've been told to make deliveries by taxi and made to pay for them from their own pockets.'
Ruth Wyatt: 'There are youngsters who've been told to make deliveries by taxi and made to pay for them from their own pockets.'

Rarely have we weathered such a deluge of response. We've heard some real horror stories from former interns, the vast majority of whom are too scared to go on the record for fear of damaging their careers.

There are youngsters who've been told to make deliveries by taxi and made to pay for them from their own pockets.

Some have been expected to work until midnight without a break. Or food. Or, of course, money.

Then there are those who have been given menial jobs that in no way increase their skill set or job prospects, unless they're looking to move into envelope stuffing, filing or hanging up clothes.

As one former intern puts it: 'Companies can get away with it because there's a supply of willing people. We've been conditioned into accepting that internships are the normal thing as a first step into the industry.'

We've had agencies lining up to tell us how well they treat interns and how bloody awful their competitors are. We also know of at least one agency that has signed up to the PRCA Intern Programme, but reclassified its interns as 'work experience' to circumvent the rules.

Not everyone treats their interns badly, but far too few treat them as valuable future members of the profession. Professor Robert Minton- Taylor from Leeds Business School sums this up beautifully: 'We have got to change the landscape of how interns are viewed by our industry from a source of cheap labour to individuals who can contribute to the success and vitality of an agency or in-house department.'

There is a business argument here and we would be naive not to address it. The worst offenders are small and medium-sized agencies and it's not just because they can get good people through their doors for nothing or next to it.

The smaller firms that make up the rump of this profession will argue they can't afford to pay the minimum wage, let alone the living wage.

However, at the very least - and we mean the very, very least - they should reimburse all travel and related expenses, and pay reasonable subsistence for short-term placements. For anything over a month they should pay the minimum wage and if they can't, they should not hire interns.

PRWeek has been scrutinising the latest crop of PR intern vacancies on offer - a dispiriting experience. We'll tell you why in weeks to come.

ruth.wyatt@haymarket.com.

Read more of PRWeek's coverage on the issue

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