Just as worrying is the news that 37% of businesses who do employ interns source some of their candidates through friends and family. It was commissioned as part of a joint research project between Intern Aware and ACCA (the Association of Chartered Certified Accountants).
The survey found that businesses in London are far more likely to employ interns, with just 38% of respondents stating they have never done so. At the other end of the scale, 72% of businesses in the Midlands have never employed an intern; with the East (61%) and the North (67%) also reporting a high number of businesses who have never offered paid internships.
Commenting on the disparity across the regions, Helen Brand OBE, chief executive of ACCA said:
“We know that only a tiny minority of young people can afford to travel to London for an internship. With work experience now considered an integral part of any CV, the lack of opportunities available outside the capital will only add to the economic divide between the north and south of the country in future years.
“By 2017, ACCA wants to see at least 60% of all businesses having employed a paid intern and to have reaped the multitude of benefits that working with a talented, enthusiastic young person can bring.”
Reacting to the findings, Chris Hares, Campaigns Manager for Intern Aware said:
“This research confirms what young people have been saying for years – internships are being dished out to friends and family members, rather than the most able. This creates a new hurdle for bright young people who lack money or connections.
“This is also making the problem of unpaid internships worse. Businesses and young people alike need a fair system which provides legal clarity, which is why we’re calling for the Government to require all internships lasting more than four weeks to be paid.”
According to Helen Brand, improving access to internships will not only bring benefits to young people from the area, but offers a boost to the businesses offering them too.
“Improving access to internships across the country is a vital part of addressing the geographical imbalance in our economy.
“Cultivating a talented, motivated, ambitious workforce is a vital component of any good strategy for growth. If businesses located outside London want to compete with those based in the capital, offering paid internships to the next generation of local talent is key.”
The report also found that businesses with fewer than fifty employees were far less likely to have offered internships, with 83% of respondents from this demographic never having done so.
As Helen Brand explains, small businesses have just as much to offer interns as larger organisations:
“The opportunity to work in a range of different business environments gives young people a broader experience of work and a better idea of how their strengths and weaknesses fit with potential employers.
“In smaller companies, interns can often make a bigger impact and the effect of work can be seen relatively quickly. Also, many placements with smaller companies are project based which means that interns have more opportunity to take ownership of a task and see it through to the end.”
The benefits of paid internships in smaller companies don’t only flow one way, says Helen Brand:
“In a smaller organisation a spare pair of hands can undertake tasks no-one else has time for. Interns can provide a valuable resource to smaller businesses where existing staff are busy working hard on maintaining ‘business-as-usual’ and don’t have the time to look at issues such as competitor analysis, marketing or market research – all key areas for growth.”
With diversity and social mobility top of the business agenda, Helen Brand is calling on businesses of all sizes and from all corners of the UK to look at offering paid internships to young people from all backgrounds.
“The fact that almost half of businesses in this country have never employed an intern is nothing more than a missed opportunity for UK plc. One of the most worrying statistics to emerge from the report was that 37% of businesses who employ interns source candidates from friends and family. This approach creates a closed circle of privilege which severely limits the pool of skills and talent from which businesses recruit. We would like to see that figure reduced to 25% by 2017.”