Guidelines are there to stop work experience exploitation

An investigation in this week’s Sunday Times suggested that the ability to work for extended periods unpaid in London has become essential for anyone wanting to work as a journalist in the national press. Here Kate O’Connor, director of policy and development at London agency Skillset, says that guidelines are in place to ensure that aspiring journalists aren’t exploited:

Ed Caeser’s story in the Sunday Times about the high levels of unpaid work undertaken by young journalists will come as no surprise to anybody who has spent time working in the media.

At Skillset, the Sector Skills Council for the Creative Industries, this is a situation we are acutely aware of.

We are certainly not against the existence of work placement schemes, which can provide real opportunities and benefits to both individuals and employers. However, an over supply of people wishing to enter the industry has resulted in the creative industries being notoriously hard to break in to, as well as low or unpaid entry positions being all too common.

Skillset’s own statistics reveal, for example, that almost half of the Creative Media workforce (44 per cent) said they had carried out unpaid work at some point in their career

To address this issue, Skillset has collaborated with industry experts to produce guidelines aimed at creating a more open, fair and rewarding approach to internships, work experience, traineeships, apprenticeships and volunteer work.

Put together in collaboration with Creative & Cultural Skills and Arts Council England, the Guidelines for Employers offering Work Placement Schemes in the Creative Industries clearly set out the law and employment responsibilities in the creative industries, where gaining entry is so often informal and open to a ‘who you know’culture.

It is only right and proper that available roles should go to those with the most talent and potential. Provisions should therefore be in place for promoting fair and equitable access to all entry routes, opening them up to candidates from all backgrounds. Fair opportunities should exist for people who wish to embark on a career, as well as those who wish to move on in their careers in the Creative Industries.

The need for these guidelines is not just about preventing exploitation. It is also about making sure that our industries are open to everyone with the talent and determination to work within them.

The Panel on Fair Access to the Professions report, Unleashing Aspiration, which was published last summer, had 88 proposals to help make all the professions open and fair. A best practice code and quality kite marking for internships were among these. These guidelines are a powerful and practical response to that.

For example, they suggest time-limiting work experience placements to no more than 160 hours and paying at least the National Minimum Wage for anyone on an internship.

These guidelines are not about condemning any sections of our industry. They have been developed to provide clarity over the different terms associated with work-based learning programmes, including volunteering, work experience placements, internships and apprenticeships, and a set of best practice guidelines for employers.

It is now up to employers, unions and trade bodies to address their implementation and adopt these guidelines as policy for their own work placement and other entry-level programmes. To that end, we are inviting organisations across our footprint to discuss how to take them forward. We look forward to working with them.

Skillset work experience guidelines

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