There’s no doubt that work experience is valuable for students: in a practical discipline like public relations it can be a key step in getting a foot on the career ladder.
But should students be paid for their time on placement?
In the US, it seems it may be illegal for employers to exploit students as a source of free labour (The New York Times, 2 April 2010).
What about the UK? In its revised Work Placement Charter, the CIPR acknowledges that the rules governing unpaid placements (increasingly known as internships in the UK as well) can be interpreted either way on this question:
“National Minimum Wage legislation requires employers to pay minimum wage or above for all work placements, unless they fall within the following exemptions:
Students who are studying on higher education courses at UK universities or colleges if placed with an employer as part of their course. This exemption may be applied for a maximum period of one year. Students doing voluntary work for a registered charity and those doing work-shadowing.”
As the CIPR states: “PR remains a popular and therefore highly competitive career for graduates, but this does not mean that employers should take advantage of this to exploit interns.”
“Unpaid internships should be the exception rather than the rule and best practice is to offer at least the minimum wage.”
Perhaps the distinction should be made between graduate level placements and those suitable for sixth formers and first and second year students. A broader ban on unpaid work experience would make it almost impossible for inexperienced students to develop skills and confidence and to build their CVs before entering the highly competitive graduate jobs market.
Photo from @Wickliffe’s photostream on Flickr used under Creative Commons