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Are You Experienced?
Towards the end of term, there's an unspoken agreement between academics and students that everyone is knackered. After the ideally calm but actually frantic Christmas period, January jumps out of the shadows and repeatedly beats the cowering masses over the head with colds, rain, misery and, of course, work. By mid-March, everyone's been on the go for nearly three months and is praying for either Easter or the sweet release of death. However, rather than settling down over this vacation, most students I know are busier than ever.
Exams lurk unpleasantly at the back of our minds, rearing their ugly heads whenever we settle down with a cup of tea and an episode of pleasantly mind-numbing rubbish. Coursework is to be finished, notes are to be revised, incomprehensible lecture notes are to be read through in desperation. And then there's work experience.
With the outlook for graduates looking as bleak as ever, it dawned on everyone some time ago that a degree is nowhere near enough any more. Instead, extra-curricular activities rule, and you're a wimp if you're in bed before 2am, not because you were clubbing, but because you were building sets at the amateur theatre, playing 25 hockey matches or standing for election at the Student Union. And extra-curricular rules partly because people enjoy their hobbies, of course, but also for that all-important CV decoration. Sad, but true. And now even the extra stuff doesn't cut it – many students are fighting tooth and nail to cram every holiday with as many internships as possible.
Work experience makes you employable. That's a fact. It's also useful, practical and interesting (when you're not photocopying). But it's not just the territory of Year 11s sitting behind the Browns' make up counter for two weeks: the internship scramble is becoming more and more cut throat. Often, it's the classic chicken and egg situation. To get a placement employers want to see a CV full of previous internships, but how do you get work experience in the first place? Once you've broken the barrier of the first placement, more do follow, but it's definitely an uphill struggle.
General consensus amongst my friends has seen a hit rate of one acceptance for every fifteen applications. And that's for the big businesses with designated schemes; the law firms, management consultancies and banks that put applicants through rigorous tests before offering two out of fifty the chance to get coffee for the whole office for two weeks. For those who'd like to work in areas like media, politics and international development, there are no such initiatives. Applicants are at the mercy of an anonymous person's email inbox. And that person is probably far too busy and important, and would, possibly understandably, rather get out of the office on time rather than organise some eager nineteen-year-old's two weeks in the working world.
Then, once interns arrive at their temporary office ready for work, a whole new set of problems kick in. The Government seems to have cottoned onto the idea that interns are often exploited. Better to realise a stunningly obvious truth spectacularly late rather than never. But with the economy in the dumps and cuts rife, businesses can use interns to do the grunt work that would normally require a permanent paid position. Then there's the expenses argument. Why would a company pay the travel expenses of one applicant when others can afford to fund themselves? Often the biggest opportunities are in London, and the answer for those of us who strangely don't live in the capital is to couch-surf from friend to friend and avert our eyes from perilously high train fares.
In Parliament this week, Nick Clegg put forward the case for paying interns the minimum wage. It was then promptly exposed that Clegg's father wangled him his first internship in the ridiculously competitive banking sector. It only proved how deep the problems run and how long they've been entrenched. One thing is certain: inequality is rife. But how on earth do we begin to regulate it?