Interns are people too - so why can't a 'people business' like PR recognise that?

In the PR world we often use the phrase "we're a people business", yet, in parallel, we hear about PR companies exploiting young people with unpaid work experience and internships designed to "open doors" to a career in communications.

If PR is a people business, the industry should act that way toward interns, argues Gay Bell
If PR is a people business, the industry should act that way toward interns, argues Gay Bell

I don't see how these two situations can sit together – they are a total contradiction. Surely, if you run a business that is dependent on the talent and hard work of the people you employ, then you should treat your people well? That means paying them. All of them.

Paid internships bring many benefits to an organisation.

By paying interns you widen the net of potential applicants across a broader socio-economic group, bringing in different life experiences. Unpaid interns are mostly dependent on their parents to fund them, something people from less privileged backgrounds can't ask for.

It is also really hard for people from outside London (home to the majority of agencies in the UK) to accept offers of work experience in the capital when it is not paid.

The risk to our industry is that if internships continue to be unpaid then we will end up with a serious lack of diversity in our talent pool. That would make our future very shallow.

For the employee, paid internships tend to be better experiences because when an employer is paying for someone's time, they naturally respect it more.

It also encourages the team to get the most out of an intern's time. As a result, the intern gets a richer and fuller learning experience and the opportunity to do real work – not just make the tea.

And happy, well-rewarded interns make great potential team members.

In an industry where recruitment is one of the toughest challenges agency managers and owners face, turning interns into staff is what success looks like.

Paying interns also sends out a positive message to current staff and potential candidates. It clearly shows that you value people and believe that a job well done should be rewarded.

All internships and work experience should be recognised with some level of reward. The government could play its part in realising this.

How about incentivising businesses to create paid internship schemes, such as grants, tax breaks and training support, which would all help to make paying the norm?

In a 'people industry', we need to value people more and put them at the top of our business agendas.

To be frank, if you can't afford to pay for your staff, then you need to question the validity of your business model rather than exploiting people.

While the PRCA and other trade bodies have done a good job of creating a momentum toward paid internships, it is the responsibility of all agency owners to stop the practice of offering unpaid placements today – for the good of our industry’s future and tomorrow’s talent.

Gay Bell is chief executive of Platform Communications

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