Internships are more about privilege than ability

We all know the age old idiom that tells us that who you know is more important than what you know, and few situations embody this more than the competition to obtain summer internships. As internships have become inherently key in becoming an employable graduate, the period just after the Christmas holiday has become the prime time for the scramble for placements – but many of our peers know this is something they simply needn’t worry about.

Applications and the ordinary processing channels may not even be necessary – all it requires is a simple phone call from a family member or friend to one of their network and an opportunity appears. The issue that arises when educated parents use their connections to help their children to find good jobs is the resulting unfair lack of opportunities available to less-connected children.

The CEO of Debrett’s Foundation has previously said that nepotism has a greater impact now than ever before, with seven in every ten young Britons using family connections to get their first foot on the career ladder. Even more telling is the quarter of young people believing that being ‘blessed’ with a double-barrelled surname would secure them a better internship. Upwards mobility is not impossible today, even if it has become more difficult, as income inequality has increased. It also means that the privileged among us may not the the most able candidates for an internship, and even further to this, the best candidate for a job.

Naturally, the influence of connections is not equal across different industries. Certain industries are renowned for the abundance of leg-ups given through personal connections, such as publishing. However public sector companies, with a prime example being the BBC, have almost eradicated the effect of nepotism as it is nigh on impossible to get an internship without following the official selection process, requiring application and subsequent selection, without any benefits from having connections.

There is more than just one layer of privilege present in the competition to secure an internship. The choice between having an income and bolstering their CV is a critical one for many students, yet summer long unpaid internships are excluding those with talent, ambition and drive, just because they cannot afford to work for free. An unpaid or underpaid summer internship is a luxury that is not an option for many people. Privilege dictates whether a student is able to spend the summer investing in their future, rather than earning actual income in a holiday job. Those students who have the financial backing to go without an income are instantly at an advantage – a particular issue for those who reside outside of London, the hub for many of the summer internships which students will be competing for. Nearly half of children from underprivileged backgrounds said they had not applied for placements in London because they could not afford the costs of staying there, a further example of wealth taking precedence over potential talent.

Ability takes a back seat to privilege in most cases concerning the acquisition of summer internships, meaning that the playing field isn’t level and probably never will be. Nepotism is a functioning system because it provides an easier route to success, and of course, who of us would refuse a helping hand towards employment?

Image: COD Newsroom

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