Whatever you do, don't screw the intern

I previously considered interns to be American things. I don't ever recall coming across them until that infamous matter involving Bill Clinton and Monica Lewinsky.

I previously considered interns to be American things. I don't ever recall coming across them until that infamous matter involving Bill Clinton and Monica Lewinsky.

Now it seems that internships are all the rage; they are becoming popular in New Zealand, most notably in the ICT sector.

But interns don't always enjoy good fortune.

While it has often been the case that some youngsters would have a couple of weeks of work experience without pay, now it seems that many are expected to work for months for free.

One fifth of British employers have admitted to using interns as a source of cheap labour.

When I was in the UK last year, I noted that media, especially of the new media/online variety, are the worst offenders.

Adverts would seek applicants for roles that actually involve proper work, for which the participants would be lucky to get expenses. And all just to get a start in their careers.

Worse still, the ruling Conservative Party even auctioned off internships at city firms to raise money for party funds.

However, despite condemning the practice, more progressive voices, such as the Liberal-Democrats, the opposition Labour Party, the Guardian newspaper and the BBC, were also exposed for using unpaid staff.

Understandably, the furore raised questions about social equity, because internships prevent the poor and middle classes from getting the same start as those who have wealthy enough parents to support them while they work for nothing.

Fortunately, we don't seem to have the same exploitation of interns here yet.

In New Zealand, it would rub against our sense of a fair go, as much as our country likes doing things on the cheap. But, as a small country, word would also soon get around as to who these exploitative employers taking advantage were.

In addition, the job market in New Zealand and Australia is better than it is overseas, so young graduates don't have to sell themselves short. It's even the case in IT that the ongoing labour shortages strengthen the employees' hand. It's become not just about employers offering education and training, but also needing to "sell" their interns the idea of working for them as opposed to anyone else. Given this, they dare not be exploitative.

In other words, and in terms that former President Clinton might understand, we should not screw the intern.

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