I Have a Real Problem with Internships

This is a guest blog post written by Brian Fitzpatrik, Consultant at Brian Fitzpatrick Sports Analysis.

“Internship Unpaid” are my two least favourite words on one of my favourite websites, thevideoanalyst.com.

It angers me, especially when paired with words like MSc or experience with software x, y or z.

I’ve even seen recently an unpaid internship disguised as a “course”.

The practice of unpaid internships primarily arose over the last 10 years as the financial crisis took hold with employers facing shrinking budgets and limited to any opportunities for graduates coming out of college.  Many sports organisations seem intent on retaining this practice as the status quo when there is less justification for it.

So why are unpaid internships so bad? Do they not provide experience and employability to the intern?

Research from the University of Essex

Unpaid internships is getting people to work for you for free. Research from the University of Essex has found that graduates who take up unpaid internships on average make £3,500 less salary then their counterparts who went straight into the workforce after university 3.5 years later.

Perhaps those who got paid jobs initially stopped going after a job they really wanted. Well in any case, those who did an unpaid internship where 9% less likely to be happy in their job 3.5 years later.

So longer-term, there doesn’t seem to be a benefit in doing an unpaid internship. How about the short term effects?

Well for the individual, it depends very much on the organisation, your mentor and colleugues how much you will learn, who you meet and how you develop. The liklihood in what experience, networking and skills you learn, is that it all happens at the start of the internship.

For the organisations, interns can be seen as a nuisance at the start, spending time training them and assisting them but once this learning is over that they can take charge of menial tasks to allow their ‘mentors’ to do work they’d rather do.

A Ban?

That is why BASES and even Westminster recommend or are seeking to ban internships that last longer than a month.

The big element often not looked at further in internships is the human side of the intern. These are graduates with bright eyes, enthusiastic about their new experience, hoping to apply the hundreds or thousands of journals that they have read and are more up to date on than their employers. They may also be under the impression of a potential job at the end of the experience.

While these optimistic goals are still in their mind, they may well be working a second job which is likely less skilled but paid to allow them to work for free elsewhere, draining them. They are borrowing or receiving money from their parents to allow them to afford to work for free. They’re possibly not getting their haircut as often, buying cheaper less healthy food, avoiding dates they can’t afford to go on. They’re feeling a guilt of what a great opportunity they’ve been given. They are possibly not playing a sport they love so they can carve a career in it.

They’re feeling a pressure to succeed and to make the sacrifices worthwhile.

Kevin Bridges describes this experience quite sucinctly from one of his comedy shows. One of his lines ‘working in a shop where everything is worth a quid except you’ really resonates. When you’re asking someone to be an unpaid intern in a professional sports team. You’re saying that the 16 year old who checks tickets at the turnstile, the person who sell programmes and the person at the till in the food stand are worth more than them. Obviously those workers deserve their wage too but they didn’t have to get a degree to be skilled enough for those positions either.

In sport, it has gone to the stage where it is a pre-resiquite to have done an internship before getting a job. I have seen unpaid internships advertised requiring skills. If a company requires a skill or experience to be considered to work for them, then they are requiring labour, not offering an experience.

This deserves financial remuneration.

I’d like to point out that I’m not 100% against the right unpaid internships. I mean internships for students or first time work graduates that last no more than 30 days actual work, whether that be 6 5-day weeks or 30 1-day weeks. With an emphasis on improving the student, providing some experience allowing them to utilise that to enhance their studies. This is the organisations opportunity to see if this person has potential to be a great addition to them at the completion of the internship or their studies – not an opportunity to hand over menial work.

Once someone is a graduate, someone with proven skills in delivering in this area. They should not be working for free. They, like any other profession should be treated with the deserved dignity that someone who paid for an education and proved themselves worthy of a degree. They have to look at beginning to pay back that student loan, they have to live and lots can’t rely on parental support to do work unpaid and should not be discriminated against in that way.

Most people who are in the situation to advertise these unpaid internships probably do have a sense of guilt in doing so, although going back to Kevin Bridge’s “David Cameron has never had a packet of flaming hot monstermunch for breakfast”. Likely, they are are people who have never had to do much work for free. Perhaps they’re one of a very small percentage of people that have reached their dreams through an unpaid internship. Or perhaps they’re self-serving and more interested in increasing output of their department with no impact on budget and a big impact on a person’s time and self-esteem.

It would be easy for me to preach this and not offer solutions.

So what can we do to change this situation? Will getting rid of unpaid internships not reduce opportunities?

There is parilimentary work ongoing in the UK looking at unpaid internships, The Irish government brought in an internship scheme named jobbridge where the state gives the unemployed person extra jobseekers allowance if gaining experience (no cost to the employer). I don’t know the situation of other countries in this regard.

At university level, building relationships with employers is a way to influence them to be fair to graduates.  Also, inform their students of their rights as an intern or on a placement.

To the employers in a position to hire these people; you need to consider not only what is right and best for the intern but also your organisation over the longer-term.  Have a conscience and consider when providing experience crosses over to exploitation.  Have a deep think about what you’re asking for. Have a think about what more you can offer. Consider if there is another way you can help them contribute financially.

In terms of creating opportunities for interns to contribute financially, analysts have skills with video, editing in particular. Why not join them up with your marketing deparment for a day or two a week/month to help them. If you look at my some clubs, they post a sponsored video naming their team for their upcoming match. You could similarly do that with a post match highlight reel or end of season dinner highlights.

So can you contribute to skilled people not working for free or below minimum wage?   It’s time to confine unpaid internships to the bin as the memory of the financial crisis begins to fade.

“A fair day’s work for a fair day’s wage”



Rob Carroll. Founder of The Video Analyst.com Performance Analyst. Always learning.