Reflections on environmental sustainability and social entrepreneurship
As I reflected in a blog post last Thursday the idea that left me least convinced in the Prime Minister's speech to the BITC summit was the assertion that: "Put a young person into college for a month’s learning, unpaid – and it’s hailed as a good thing. Put a young person into a supermarket for a month’s learning, unpaid – and it’s slammed as slave labour."
I pointed out that surely when Tescos, Argos and Poundland are reflecting on the concerns about the race to the bottom that these "workfare" schemes could trigger it is time for Number 10 to take note. Tescos particularly suggest in their statement that the "risk of losing benefits that currently exists should be removed". The debate on Thursday's Newsnight programme made clear that it is this mandatory element that is of most concern to employers. It has been further examined by Channel 4 New's fact check team.
Principles that might underpin an extended Work Experience/ Internships Charter
These schemes raise a wider range of issues that need consideration. I would suggest the Government, and all those involved in Work Experience, should revisit and extend The Internship Charter developed by CIPD. Factors to consider are:
- Pay and expenses: The deflationary pressure on wages and paid work opportunities that unpaid labour may create needs careful consideration. Unpaid work experience for a week or two at Key Stage 4 (KS4) and Key stage 5 (KS5) seems reasonable, but post-18 work experience placements/ internships should surely at least secure the minimum wage. Given participants in the DWP Work Experience programme are expected to work for 25-30 hrs/ week for JSA of £53.45 (under 25) and expenses, this equates to an hourly wage of approx £1.78-£2.13. Perhaps the Government should reduce the number of hours a week of mandatory work to 9hrs (on basis of 21+ minimum wage of £6.08). This would ensure job seekers can compliment their work experience with training hours and time to job hunt.
- Qualification level of participants and genuine skills development: DWP should make an explicit commitment to focus on work experience and internships that are a close match to the qualification level of the individual concerned, if they are going to pursue a strategy of compulsion. It would seem reasonable to expect someone that needs work experience on their CV or to get in/ stay in the habit of work to undertake a placement that demands their skills level, or one rung down the ladder. Simply put, having a graduate with a masters spending weeks stacking shelves at Sainsbury's is unlike to help them or society very much.
- Access/ open recruitment: Deputy Prime Minister's call for "access to internships [to be] open and transparent, with financial support such as providing expenses or accommodation, or by treating the internship as a job that can be paid under National Minimum Wage law" has clear moral foundations. This philosophy needs to guide Government/ DWP and businesses' policies. They should sign up to CIPD's charter.
- Core or supplementary activity: Careful consideration should be given by businesses and non-profits as to whether they are asking people on placement to do work that would usually be carried out by a member of paid staff (i.e. are they using an intern to provide free/ cheap maternity cover) or are they doing work that is additional to 'steady state' activity? The former should at least attract a minimum wage salary, but should also be calibrated to the demands and responsibility of the placement. Supplementary development activity that would not happen due to financial resources constraints in an organisation (commercial or non-commercial), without the involvement of a work experience trainee/ intern, might be justified in being categorised as an unpaid volunteer position.
- Organisation type: Small charities and start-ups probably have a stronger moral case than more established and financially liquid organisations for not paying people doing work experience. The money may simply not be there and the placements are essentially highly supported volunteer roles. However there may be a moral case for the organisations' giving volunteers first option on appropriate job opportunities as and when they emerge, perhaps using a 'deferred progression agreement' model.
- Too much work experience? At what point should employability professionals advise that people have enough work experience at different organisations on their CV and need to simply focus on job applications and interview skills? This needs careful reflection.
- Progression agreements: Businesses and non-profits that are recruiting at the skills level of those undertaking work experience placements should commit to interviewing these people first for new openings. The Government or business support organisations could support this approach by putting template progression agreements in the public domain. These agreements would formalise this commitment when someone starts a placement.
Andrew Dakers is Business Development Director at Hounslow Education Business Partnership, which delivers 3000 work experience placements with partner companies each year, and former Head of Public Affairs at Business in the Community. He writes this blog in a personal capacity.
Add a Comment