Exploiting the dream?


Overworked with little or no compensation

Once upon a time, a degree was viewed as the crème de la crème of employability success and a fast track to a dream job. Nowadays, many graduates are scrambling around trying to figure out what they can do to create some sort of future for themselves, whilst at the same time coping with blows to their confidence, financial security and independence.

Graduate unemployment is at an all time low with an estimated one in six graduates currently unemployed. Many graduates are furthering their education in a desperate attempt to achieve a more competitive edge. However, with the government’s plans to hike up tuition fees; the opportunity to achieve a Masters qualification is looking bleak to say the least for students who do not have Daddy’s credit card in their back pocket.

Therefore, with the hope of boosting their CV, many students and graduates are turning to work experience as the answer to their employability woes.

Work experience can be a double edged sword. On the one hand, it is viewed as a sparkling added extra to your degree that will make you stand out in a sea of students and crucially, therefore, secure that dream job; the X Factor for the job hunter. But thousands of ambitious students and graduates each year organise work experience with the view to boosting their job prospects only to find their time is spent keeping a seat warm for a real professional to walk through the doors or mastering the art of tea making. So at what point does work experience become a waste of time and, possibly in some cases, exploitation?

Working hard with no monetary reward is an unappealing prospect at the best of times, so when interns are not reimbursed for expenses such as travel; it is easy to understand why many students and graduates feel exploited. The empty pay packets at the end of a work experience stint also means that the less well off graduates, despite having equal qualifications, will struggle to compete with graduates from more affluent families as they simply cannot afford to work for free.

While much of the above may be true, one cannot refute the fact that internships and work experience are essentially a good opportunity to network within industries. Nine out of 10 recruiters say they consider work experience a crucially important part of a CV. Work experience should give students and graduates invaluable experience which can propel them on their journey towards professional success and by enabling them to gain a vital perspective into the world of work.

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45% of students surveyed received a graduate job offer after completing work experience.

60% of students surveyed claimed that they were given real work.

75% of students believe their commercial awareness significantly increased as a result of their placement.

However, only 40% of students felt challenged enough during their placement.

Source: TARGETjobs


David Evans, Careers Advisor from the Centre for Enterprise, Employability and Careers said: “These days, in terms of graduate recruitment, it is all about so you’ve got a degree but what else have you got? In terms of extra added value that will ensure that your CV will stand out, then work experience is one of the things employers always say that they want.  It is an ideal opportunity to provide evidence of the skills and personal qualities employers are always searching for.”

Although, it does not seem unreasonable to expect candidates to display a high level of commitment to the job they yearn for; the employer should not take advantage of this fact. The need for work experience guidelines is not just about preventing exploitation; it is also about making sure that industries are open to everyone with the talent and determination to work within them. It should not be the case that only the wealthy can afford to take on unpaid work but an opportunity for everyone to gain invaluable work experience.

Work experience guidelines

  1. Individuals on placements are not used to perform roles that are inconsistent with mutually agreed learning objectives and/or would otherwise be undertaken by paid staff or crew, whether permanently employed, casual or freelance.
  2. Unpaid work placements should normally be for no longer than four weeks.
  3. Make sure you have a clear and accurate description in writing explaining what the work experience entails.
  4. Student and graduates must be covered by the employer’s or client’s insurance, including Employer’s Liability and Public Liability.
  5. Hours of attendance are limited to 40 hours a week.

For more information about work experience opportunities then visit CEEC which can be located on Alexander Square or you can call them directly on 01524 592480.

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