As noted in my post a few days ago, there is a NextinFashion contest underway (in collaboration with The Resource List and NYFW)! In addition, author (and fashion industry professional), Natalie Gowans has provided us with another sneak peak of the contest prize, her book, Memoirs of a Fashion Industry Failure, Vol. I.
Part 2. The Internship Problem
Extracts from Memoirs of a Fashion Industry Failure, Volume One,
A stone cold dose of the real facts about starting your career in fashion, and illegal internships, doled out by hardened PR girl Emma Crosby (the woman responsible for launching the Miss 60 brand in the UK), and Ross Perlin, author of scary bed- time read for any graduate: ‘Intern Nation’. In two parts.
Anybody who has tried to find their first job in the fashion industry is likely to have come up against it – the internship problem. You can’t get a job without experience, you can’t get experience without a job. OR, at least, without doing an unpaid internship. There you will do all the things associated with a first job – learn, work hard, put in the full whack of hours, and probably get talked down to a bit and have to kiss a fair bit of boot-heel too – but receive little or no money in return. Instead you will be paid in that golden and elusively indefinable substance – experience. And that sweet stuff (you are led to believe,) will get you a REAL JOB in the end.
The trouble is, more often than not, when your time is up and you hold out your hands for the career you thought would be awaiting you at the end of it all, you are casually kicked to the curb.
“What’s going on?” you may say to yourself after a few months or years of this, wringing your hands and frantically scouring the job pages looking for somebody, anybody who will actually employ you for a living wage – “Isn’t this kind of thing illegal?”
And the answer is: YES. It bloody well is.
“The word ‘internship’ is a smokescreen. It has a glamour attached to it that doesn’t really relate to the reality. In fact, ‘internship’ is not a real job description at all.”
These words were spoken by Ross Perlin, the author of Intern Nation, at a lobby meeting held at Westminster following the ‘Imagine a World Without Interns’ rally outside the Houses of Parliament in June 2011.
He was addressing a crowd of interns, journalists, students, politicians and activists, (and me), as part of a discussion about how to put an end to the current, problematic internship system. And he was alluding to a worrying fact about internships. It is this: they do not really exist.
“What?” you may be asking, screwing up your face in disbelief. “Poppycock! I am doing an internship right now! All my friends are doing them too!” you may be adding, scornfully, preparing to throw this book aside in disgust.
But wait. The fact of the matter is, in the UK at least, (and in many cases in the USA too,) if you are doing the work of a paid employee and working the hours a paid employee would work, and you are NOT getting paid at least National Minimum Wage or the equivalent, then your employer is breaking the law.
The Internship system as it exists now began its life in the States, and has since been exported to many other countries, including the UK. The word ‘intern’ was first used in medicine to describe student doctors, but the terminology gradually crept into other industries, and ‘internship’ evolved to describe a kind of big brother of work-experience and sneaky cousin of the apprenticeship.
Soon, however, it outgrew both of its more lawful and sensible family members and elbowed them aside. Now it is taking over the world, like a nasty virus. And, technically, it just isn’t legal. This sounds surprising, but if you think about it, it makes sense: working for nothing, for a year or longer, no union, no worker’s rights, no minimum wage…sounds a bit fishy doesn’t it?
Ross also hinted at some of the larger ramifications of the nationwide adoption of the internship system in the UK and America:
“Interns allow employers to save billions on labour costs, illegally, and they displace millions of legal, paid employees.”
- ie: internships contribute to the deterioration of the job market.
“They also concentrate opportunities in cities and populous centres where it is expensive to live, so only the wealthy can afford to live there and work for free. This takes away opportunities from those who cannot afford to work for nothing, and from those who live in other (less wealthy) parts of the country.”
- Internships help widen the increasing gap between the nation’s rich and poor.
“The larger impact of internships is affecting a generation. It is delaying the times at which young people are able to reach important life stages – getting paid jobs, buying homes, getting married, having children etc. It is extending the adolescence of an entire generation.”
- And that, of course, affects everything, from the economy to the birth rate. Yep, internships are altering the very fabric of our society.
Scary stuff, eh?
For more blood-curdling facts to keep you awake at night, go and read Ross’s book, Intern Nation: How to Earn Nothing and Learn Little in the Brave New Economy
Or pick up your copy of Memoirs of a Fashion Industry Failure now, to read the rest of the chapter!
And … try not to have nightmares.