Internships for everyone?

While internships – a common entry point to jobs in the arts – have received negative publicity of late, one scheme for arts graduates from low income backgrounds shows that they can be hugely successful.

The DCMS Jerwood Creative Bursaries Scheme was launched in 2010 to kick-start the careers of talented new graduates who could not afford to take long-term, unpaid internships – a common entry point to jobs in the arts. The graduates are able to take up paid placements at diverse organisations including Sage Gateshead, Punchdrunk and the Royal Shakespeare Company.

This month, it was revealed that 38 of the 42 arts graduates (90 per cent) on the scheme, which is funded by DCMS and Arts Council England, have secured jobs in the cultural and creative industries.

This is welcome news at at time when internships have hit the headlines for many of the wrong reasons. Last November, the Guardian ran a story under the headline, ‘Internships: the scandal of Britain’s unpaid army’ which highlighted the number of young people suffering long hours, low pay and exploitation as they try to secure their first job. As Zoe Williams explained in a more recent article for the Guardian, there is a big difference between short-term internships which have real employment prospects – such as those run by the Guardian itself – and long-term unpaid work experience, which frequently runs for more than six months and has no job at the end of it.

In the cultural and creative sector, this is a particularly important distinction. Widely regarded as an attractive, and therefore very competitive industry to work in, it is common to hear about some young graduates working for companies without pay for many months, sometimes years. Furthermore, as the current public funding cuts continue to affect arts and cultural organisations, it seems likely that the practice may actually increase in the years ahead.

However, it would be a shame if this unethical minority damaged the reputation of all internships, which continue to be a very important route into a first job for many graduates.

“It has to be acknowledged that, with heavily constrained resources, internships can be an essential mechanism for charities and arts organisations to expand their workforce,” explains Jeremy Newton, CEO of Children & the Arts.

“We at Children & the Arts have made regular use of short-term internships and a number of those interns have ended up as permanent (salaried) employees.”

Properly managed, internships can therefore be hugely beneficial to both the graduate and organisation – and ensure that talented arts graduates have opportunities to forge valuable and successful careers in the cultural sector.

Read more about the Jerwood Creative Bursaries Scheme.

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