Earlier in the week I was contacted on Twitter by someone about this advert, for an unpaid internship at Bristol Rugby Club. They want someone with ‘proven experience in sales and marketing’ which presumably means someone who has worked before, but is now happy – or desperate enough – to work for nothing.
I’ve blogged about internships quite a few times before – here’s a piece from earlier this year in praise of the Internaware campaign and an older piece from 2009 on trying to encourage kids from poorer backgrounds to apply.
As it stands at the moment I don’t really have interns any more, just young people coming in for very short periods of work experience (e.g. a fortnight, or a couple of days a week for a month) with expenses paid. I’d like to go back to taking on interns, because I think it does give young people an incredibly important experience and a potentially life-changing exposure to the world of Westminster (or to life in a rather dingy office in St George and In the Loop style surgeries!) And I’ve had some brilliant interns, who have gone on to good jobs and will no doubt go on to great things (and are smart and funny and decent people too).
I’m thinking of having a paid intern during the summer months, someone from Bristol who’s just done their A levels and is off to university in the autumn, and making a serious effort to recruit someone who wouldn’t normally get that kind of opportunity… which doesn’t necessarily mean the one that can handle the interview process best, or write the best essay on ‘why I want to work in an MP’s office’. One thing Andy Burnham and I have in common is that we both messed up our interviews to study English at Cambridge, because, coming from the sort of backgrounds we did, we didn’t have a clue how to handle such a situation and, unlike kids from better schools, hadn’t been prepped for it. Andy – who said the experience was ‘utterly alien’ to him – was obviously made of sterner stuff than me and reapplied successfully the following year. I ran away to do Russian in Liverpool instead, because I’d read in the NME that Ian Curtis was influenced by Dostoevsky and you couldn’t study Russian from scratch in Manchester, and I liked Echo and the Bunnymen who were from Liverpool, though not as much as I liked Joy Division. It was the wrong decision for a lot of reasons, but I didn’t have anyone to tell me that at the time.
There was a debate in Parliament recently about the Government’s decision to axe face to face careers advice, and it was frustratingly obvious that most of the Tories didn’t have the slightest idea what we were talking about when we made such points, that there are actually kids out there who don’t mix with people from professional backgrounds and don’t know anyone who’s been to university and can’t call up a friend of the family when they want to do work experience. As Andy said in reply to my intervention, it seems that many schools are now leaving it to pupils to organise their own work experience, which is so wrong. The Government’s rhetoric on social mobility is meaningless unless they address issues like this – and that means proper careers advice in schools, not the ‘on the end of a telephone line’ service they’re proposing now.