Opinion: From Our Readers - Feedback on work experience article (News, 11 September)

As a senior university lecturer responsible for short-term placements/internships for 300-plus PR students, I read 'No cash for work experience staff' with increasing frustration.

While I am happy for students to give their time free to charities, I am reluctant to see them work for nothing for agencies. I appreciate that work placements add enormously to students' future job prospects, but they should not be exploited. This is not Victorian England; PR agencies are not poorhouses.

How would you feel if your son or daughter worked for a commercial entity without payment in order to boost the directors' bonuses?

- Robert Minton-Taylor, associate senior lecturer, Leeds Business School

Agencies and in-house PR departments should not regard young people doing work experience simply as a source of cheap or free labour.

Young people, or students working in their holidays, are entitled to certain rights under employment law. Agencies should be aware of employee rights, including notice, statutory sick pay (if their wages are high enough) and holiday entitlement.

The hire-and-fire culture of some agencies might provide a realistic introduction to real-life working, but it is no excuse for either a lack of respect or proper adherence to the law.

- David Wells, communications director, Wolters Kluwer UK

At BIG, we have an internship scheme where graduates spend a month with us and are paid minimum wage. School pupils or students can come in for up to two weeks and receive expenses.

I know times are tough for some agencies, but we feel this approach will help our drive to attract the best young talent.

- Neil Gibson, director, The BIG Partnership

I was shocked by Chris Wood's comment that he does not believe 'there's any direct commercial benefit in having people on work experience'.

As a PR graduate who completed many unpaid work placements, and now an account manager who hires student interns, I find this hard to believe. We try to take on as many students as possible and 90 per cent of the time they add a great deal to the business. PR graduates have always had a tough time, and in the current climate it will be even more difficult. We need to help wherever we can to nurture young talent.

- Amy Johnston, account manager, Wolfstar

I find it slightly unethical that some agencies use work experience to prop up their account teams with free labour. I can't imagine any client would be happy to know that a work experience person is contacting the media on their behalf.

Flip the coin, though, and you do get some fabulous graduates with great experience. It's clearly a two-way street, but it needs good business ethics from agencies.

- Rebecca Whitehead, senior consultant, Polymedia (from PRWeek.com)

If people are prepared to learn the ropes the hard way, you should pay their travel expenses at least. Moreover, you should give them work that challenges and stretches them - otherwise no-one benefits at all. Give 'em a break and see what you get.

- Martin Ballantine, founder, Piracy Corporation (from PRWeek.com)

Email letters (200 words maximum) to prweekletters@haymarket.com.

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