What you can do about unpaid work experience

Unpaid work experience is an unfair fact of life. But if an unpaid placement will truly benefit you, here are four things you can use to overcome such a costly barrier.
Kim Connor Streich
Kim Connor Streich

This post was written by an external contributor. Ryan Ellis discusses what you can do to overcome the barrier of unpaid work experience.

Interested in human rights law or fancy yourself as the next big media star? Perhaps you have a penchant for politics or wish to be a major player in the world of finance?

The common denominator for anyone wishing to access these industries is the need show a proven commitment to the field. Therefore, many point towards the necessity to undertake various work experience placements – some of which will be unpaid.

Unpaid work experience is a timely issue. New research by the Social Mobility Commission shows that most people support a ban on long-term, unpaid internships. Earlier in 2017, a report from the Institute for Public Policy Research found that the number of internships has risen by as much as 50% since 2010, with many employers viewing them as a “must have.”

Begrudgingly, unpaid work experience is an unfair fact of life and will continue to be until there is enough support for viable change. Until that time, the first thing you need to consider is whether the unpaid placement will truly be of any benefit to you. If the answer is yes, then here are four things you can use to overcome such a costly barrier:

Careers/employability service

unpaid work experience money

Your university’s employability/careers service should be your first port of call. As well as being a font of knowledge for all queries regarding your CV, interviews and assessment centres, many employment services also offer financial aid to help you carry out the prized placement you’ve worked hard to secure.

Whether in the form of a bursary or expenses claims, the coverage and assistance on offer will vary between institutions. This financial help may well be means tested, in which case you will need to fulfil certain criteria to be eligible.

Regardless, it is worth reaching out to these specialist members of staff as they can always point you in the right direction, even if they can’t personally cough up the dough!

Positive action

unpaid work experience positive

As previously mentioned, unpaid work experience can disproportionately discriminate against those poorest in society. The passing of the Equality Act 2010 was an initiative to rectify some of society’s past wrongs. Under this legislation, employers can choose to hire candidates from under-represented groups, provided they have the same skill set.

Essentially, this means that a company can lawfully choose to hire certain individuals over others, provided they are as qualified for the role. This is not the same as filling a quota or positive discrimination, both of which remain unlawful.

Whilst a contentious issue, the merits of positive action lie in the ability to have industries better reflect society. There are many work experience schemes that use positive action to give funded opportunities to those who would otherwise have struggled to gain access to such industries.

Regional branch vs. big city life

unpaid work experience regional

Perhaps the biggest problem with unpaid work placements is covering the cost of accommodation. This is particularly true if wishing to undertake a placement in cities like London, Manchester or Glasgow. Rather than setting your sights on the burgeoning metropolises, how about branching out into different regions?

If you’re interested in the news media, perhaps try a placement in local radio or television. Perhaps you’re interested in politics, in which case try a placement in local governance or a devolved body (such as the Scottish Parliament or Welsh Assembly.) However, if it’s law or finance that takes your fancy, many large corporate bodies also have offices in smaller cities such as Bristol.

These smaller offices are a fantastic training ground for those new to an industry. As well as a friendlier atmosphere, these locations won’t be such a drain on the finances. Furthermore, regions like the South West are far prettier than any sprawling city!

Get a paying job

There are some jobs that require little long-term commitment, and these can be hugely beneficial to consider should you wish to upgrade your standard of living whilst on placement (breakfast with all the trimmings, anyone?).

Your university may casually employ students to perform the role of ‘student ambassadors’ at open days, or you might take a stewarding role at a large festival. These jobs need minimum commitment beyond the conclusion of the event and look great on your C.V.

As well as being placed in a position of trust, you will also gain valuable customer service and problem-solving skills. These positions also have little need for a lengthy employment history.

So there you have it, four simple ways to overcome the hurdle of unpaid work experience.

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