DISCUSS: Is work experience worth it?

DISCUSS: Is work experience worth it?

By Amy Sugarman 15/01/13

Having recently spent a week doing work experience here at IdeasTap, Amy Sugarman shares her thoughts on the issue, as part of the Pay Debate...

As an arts student, I know how important it is to gain industry experience before venturing into the big wide world. Over the last three years, I’ve sent out countless e-mails about getting work experience at different companies that interest me. In the majority of cases, I’ve been turned down or someone has got in before me, and the experiences I have had were mostly unpaid. But I see nothing wrong with this.

The law aims to make clear the difference between unpaid work experience and paid internships, the main difference being the type of work you do. At my age, I see little value in merely shadowing someone (like a glorified stalker) for a week; the skills most employers look for can only be gained by doing. Using and formulating spreadsheets, researching and presenting findings can only be learnt and honed on the job. Work experience is also one of the most advantageous things you can do to set yourself apart from fellow graduates.

Jamie Njoku-Goodwin worked as a runner during the BBC Proms: “Some of the things I did were photocopying, tea-making, sitting in production meetings, proof-reading scripts, researching pieces, escorting Daleks around the Royal Albert Hall…” Although Jamie wasn’t paid for this work he thinks it was worthwhile and lead to him getting a further job with the BBC. He doesn’t advocate long-term unpaid work experience but says he understands the value of working for free.

The work experience I’ve done has only ever been for a week at a time, limiting the money coming out of my own pocket. Doing work experience outside of term time probably saves me money, as I’m not just going out to stave off boredom. Many companies offer to pay travel expenses and sometimes you’ll get a free lunch too. Short-term placements can make it feasible for you to work in different parts of the country. Once again it seems that London is where the majority of work is and, although this isn’t a problem for me, I understand how it can be a pain for some.

If you’re applying to a large corporate company for a 10-week summer internship you should get paid (unless it’s part of your degree course). Some companies try to define such work as volunteering, which isn’t acceptable – long-term internships must be paid at the minimum wage. Some banking internships pay around £7,000 but, as we’re all too aware, the arts are totally different...

In my view, the insight you gain is worth more than a week’s wages. The value of what a company can offer you is greater than what you can initially offer them – and sometimes having a newbie in the office can be irritating. I’m a firm believer that students and grads should be less fussy and keep an open mind. As the song goes, it’s nice work, if you can get it.

The opinions expressed in DISCUSS do not necessarily represent those of IdeasTap.


What are your experiences of work experience? Let us know below... 

Image by Rootytootoot, used under a CC BY-NC 2.0 licence.

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