The unpaid internship is the elephant in the room of creative industries. Many of us may silently ask – Is it OK for publishers to offer unpaid internships? What is expected from them? What are aspiring publishing professionals meant to get out of them? Last night, the Society of Young Publishers hosted a lively discussion around these questions with a fantastic panel of speakers: Ellie Pike (Penguin), Tabz O’Brien-Butcher (NUS), Suzanne Collier (BookCareers.com) and Julie Hadwin (Creative Skill Set).
The issue with offering unpaid internships is not just whether it is fair or not to have young adults working for free but that with so many of the internships being offered in London the cohort being able to take them up is almost exclusively people with family or close friends in London where they can stay free of charge. Therefore, internships can be seen to exacerbate the North / South divide and act as a further barrier to diversity in publishing rather than helping people to access the industry.
However, totally unpaid internships are often a couple of weeks long and Suzanne has done a lot to make this standard. There are several options in the industry to take on longer salaried internships such as the fantastic 10 week Penguin internship that Ellie introduced us to. Short unpaid internships, or work experience placements, can be wonderful opportunities to gain insight into the publishing industry, ask questions to people in it and to get hands on experience which can be used as great interview material. Moreover, as the industry is in such a time of change, gaining skills from outside it in paid work can add value and be highly transferable when returning to publishing.
If you are embarking on an internship, unpaid or otherwise, the best advice is to speak up if you’re asked to do anything you don’t feel comfortable doing and to make the most out of anything that you do. Be a sponge. As Suzanne said, if you’re asked to do the photocopying, find out what it is you’re photocopying and find out how that fits into the wider picture of the publishing process. Every second counts and the more you make out of your internships by being proactive, it’s very likely that the fewer you’ll have to do before you’ll nab a place in a paid, permanent role.
So what are your rights as an Intern? You have a right to gain valuable experience from a short period of time in a publishing house that will benefit you and your job search.