The unconscionable arrogance of unpaid internships

This month, for the first time in our history, we recruited an intern.

Unpaid interns are a stain on the industry, argues Sami McCabe
Unpaid interns are a stain on the industry, argues Sami McCabe

I use the word ‘intern’ with a degree of reluctance. For me it’s a loaded term that implies the exploitative practice of getting bright young things to work for nothing.

It’s a shameful stain on a PR industry that has both propagated and profited from internships for decades.

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So it was heartening to see the PRCA launch a campaign designed to ensure interns are recognised for what they are: employees of an organisation; the most junior employees perhaps, temporary employees maybe, but employees nonetheless.

It’s a simple equation, in my view.

Managed properly, interns do work - however menial - that contributes to the success of the agency, and therefore its profits.

With this in mind, from a purely ethical perspective, it seems to me perverse that any agency can justify compensating anyone in the currency of work experience, not pounds and pence.

It’s arrogant, unethical and exploitative.

The PRCA’s campaign to ensure agencies pay interns the minimum wage is laudable but, in my view, doesn’t go far enough.

Agencies should pay interns the National Living Wage - at a minimum.

Our new intern reports having recently effectively paid for an internship at a major publisher.

The £60 per week expenses he received made a small dent in the £170 costs of commuting into the city and, although he reports amassing invaluable experience, he was only able to do so because he had set money aside.

I hope the PRCA’s initiative succeeds.

Sami McCabe is chief executive of Clarity PR

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