The practice does nothing to encourage social mobility or foster diversity. If your parents happen to be at the right dinner parties, and can afford to put you up in London for three months, then you're ok - most others won't get a foot on the ladder.
Those of us working in politics should set the bar high. In Parliament alone, it has been estimated that a staggering 18,000 hours of work every week are completed by around 450 interns working for nothing. And though the Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority may have passed up the opportunity earlier this year to make the payment of parliamentary interns mandatory, there's absolutely no excuse for internships at consultancies not to pay the minimum wage.
Yet throughout the year I have noted that unpaid internships in private companies still exist. At Insight we live by the expression that 'you have to do things right, but also do the right thing'. That's why in recruiting our research interns, we look carefully at where we advertise the roles, offer training, and two of our permanent staff started as interns.
The PRCA and CIPR should refuse to advertise jobs on their websites and newsletters that are unpaid, and I would urge them to adopt an 'interns' charter' so member consultancies pay interns fairly and offer training and feedback.
In recent weeks, the Taylor Bennett Foundation has set up an exemplary initiative seeking to address the need for greater diversity in the comms and PR industry. I hope in 2011, our trade associations and member companies will follow suit and root out poor practice. Our industry's reputation is at stake.