In the design industry, we’ve been led to believe that we should not expect to be given a ‘proper job’ without having some experience first. The problem is, most places expect you to do this term of experience completely unpaid. In this economic climate, is this really the way the industry should go about things? Here are 6 reasons why, I think, it’s not.

1. It’s encouraging.

Let’s get this out in the open right now: We’re all in our job to earn money. Some, like myself, chose to go to university in order to learn how to do something we’re passionate about, well. And eventually get paid to do it. When we’re asked to do what we love for free, at a time when we’re desperate for money – the student or graduate years – we’re very likely to become discouraged, and generally lack motivation for the subject. This means that we’re more likely to go for jobs that we may not like, but actually pay, all because an employer wouldn’t shell out £150 for a 5 day week. And even that is well below the UK’s Minimum Wage of £6.08 an hour.

Yes. Yes I am.

By paying even peanuts, you will help give interns the motivation to continue with, and seek out more, work experience that hopefully leads to full time employment. That’s if we’re not strung along for months with barely enough money for transportation, food, and (depending on the location) accommodation.

2. Even interns deserve to be rewarded for a job well done.

Yes, it’s nice to be able to say that you’ve spent a week at a prestigious studio on your CV, but it can’t compare to the feeling of a job well done and receiving a pay-cheque at the end of a hard week of work – however small it might be. It also helps us to live between placements. Nothing motivates a person to work like being able to feed yourself with money you’ve worked for.

He gets a treat for sitting. I design you a 5 page website and you don't even buy me a beer!?

3. It’s fair.

Remember the days when Cub Scouts used to have something called ‘bob-a-job day’? Basically, the young boys and girls – I myself was a Cub Scout – of the Scouting movement would go around their local area and do odd-jobs in order to raise money for their troop. Do you know why this, seemingly innocent exercise, stopped? Because people were making the Scouts work all day for 5p! That’s 78 Cents to those with otherwise inclined finances.

"Always be prepared"... to work long hours for little pay. A lesson any young girl should learn.

Asking an intern to work a 40+ hour week for nothing is, in principle, the same thing. Yes you, as an employer, are giving the young person an opportunity to gain valuable experience, but this is a two-way street. They are giving you hours of work that you would not have got done in the same time-frame without them. You’ve gained a jump on your work load while the intern has worked for you at their expense. Especially if they’ve had to travel to get to your studio. What do you think would make this a fair exchange of time and effort?

4. We’re not all members of the 1%.

The British Government has recently come under scrutiny for exploiting its interns by providing positions, often for nine months at a time, without so much as travel expenses. This means that many graduates and students will only be able to take-on an intern position if mummy and daddy are able to support them for the full term, and in a large city like London, this could be a very large bill to fit! Even then you’re not guaranteed a full time, paid, position at the end of it.

The Occupy Movement isn't a protest. It's a graduate housing scheme.

The worst thing about this sort of attitude, is that it could lead to an exceptionally elitist culture, with only the rich being able to gain experience and jobs – often regardless of their skill.

5. Our position entitles us to pay.

Interns, placements, or ‘that work-experience girl/boy’, – call us what you like – we are not volunteers helping you out of the goodness of our hearts. The Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD) states that:

“Someone should be paid if they are doing genuine and productive work, but not if they are classified as a volunteer – when they are able to choose their hours and be absent when they wish.”

As internships and work placements are, ideally, opportunities to experience a real working week, interns will not be able to choose hours or leave when they wish. Though with a lot of studios, break times are flexible, which is something they could use against you if there is ever a dispute.

The jury is still out on whether fag breaks constitute as "being absent when you wish".

6. Technically, it’s illegal.

Work is legally defined as “Having set hours; being engaged for an extended period of time and being given a defined role rather than just observing. So if you’re doing more than shadowing someone during the working week, you are entitled to pay. In the UK, there is also something called the National Minimum Wage Act 1998 which, as of October 2011, includes a minimum wage for apprentices under 19 or, 19 or over and in the first year of their apprenticeship, of £2.50 an hour – in a 38 hour week that’s about £95.

These guys are all under 18 and are offered £250,000 for 12 weeks work. You might be pushing it if you asked for the same.

Despite the Minimum Wage Act, interns are not protected by the same laws paid employees are, so they are vulnerable to exploitation. This means that you could be asked to do unacceptable tasks, for unreasonable, and often unsociable, hours. Weigh-out your potential employer before asking for, or accepting, a placement. How well do you know them? Are they likely to ask you to do something you are uncomfortable with? Who would you go to if you had an issue?

Further Info


Interne Aware

Interns Anonymous


The Internship Epidemic

Interns are ‘entitled to be paid’ says report

Should you be paid for work experience?

Unpaid internships ‘breaking minimum wage law’

Are MPs’ interns being exploited?

Graduates paying to work for free


Interns angry at being ‘exploited’ through unpaid work