Although graduate internships are a must for many top jobs, the think tank IPPR has recommended in new research that they should be limited to four weeks because of the risks of exploitation and poor working conditions. 

Entitled “THE INBETWEENERS: The new role of internships in the graduate labour market”, the study also found that the number of internships offered by top graduate recruiters has risen by as much as 50 per cent since 2010; and have effectively become a “must have” for many top jobs for young people. Nearly half of these employers say that candidates without this work experience “have little or no chance of receiving a job offer”. 

However, the proportion of graduates in high-skilled work is in long-term decline. While 61 per cent of graduates aged 21 to 30 were employed in high-skill occupations in 2008, the figure has dropped to only 56 per cent today. An oversupply of graduates effectively means that recruiters can more easily attract graduates to work for free or in low-paid, insecure work. IPPR found evidence of exploitation, poor working conditions and a lack of meaningful work opportunities. 

Some sectors, such as publishing, media and the arts, are proving particularly difficult to access for those without a parent in a managerial or professional occupation. These sectors also have particularly high concentrations of internships. For example, film and television accounts for eight per cent of the jobs market as a whole but 16 per cent of the internships on offer. 

While there is a lack of data on unpaid internships, it has been estimated that 1 in 5 is unpaid, though the proportion varies by sector. To prevent internships (whether paid or unpaid) from being a barrier to social mobility, IPPR argues that employers need to offer placements to young people of all backgrounds, not just a privileged few. It therefore recommends that: 

  • Unpaid internships lasting longer than four weeks should be banned in private companies
  • A ‘National Opportunity Programme’ should be introduced, offering residential internships for disadvantaged young people from areas which suffer from a lack of social mobility
  • Every student should be able to access a brokered work placement at university
  • A new association should be established to give a stronger political voice to interns. 

Neil Todd of Thompsons Solicitors said “The IPPR report makes interesting reading. Whilst internships are not necessarily a bad thing it is vital that they are not used by employers as a means to avoid investing in their existing workforce and are not structured in such a way as to impede social mobility. The recommendations in the report deserve very careful consideration.” 

IPPR is launching a new guide to fair internships for employers in conjunction with the report. 

To access the report, go to: 

To access the guide for employers go to: