I was reading an interesting article on artshub, ‘Unpaid Work Exploiting Women’by Madeleine Dore, and found that it was surprisingly relevant to my current situation. Whilst Dore talks about women in particular, I’m just going to focus on my experiences with volunteering and internships.
As someone who has done her fair share of internships and unpaid volunteer work, it surprised me just how many other people were in the same boat. Whilst a few of my university peers also took on internships, for many these turned out to be fantastic job opportunities. However for me, and many others, these ‘opportunities’ were very one-sided.
Dore says ‘Organisations that see interns as free labour rather than an investment, also come under scrutiny as a generation of young people keen to kickstart their careers are simply viewed as clogs in the wheel.’ I could not agree more. For one internship, we were there as workers, doing the same job as the people actually employed – except not being paid. At another internship, the group of interns were simply there to do all the mundane tasks that no one else wanted to do. One intern had been there for two years. Two. Years. It was only when I left half way through last year that she was finally offered a casual position.
What have I learned from this experience? Nothing. Is it relevant to my field? Barely.
Whilst I’m not against volunteering for internships in any way – I’ve had lots of them for a reason – there comes a point when you realise you’re there as an unpaid worker rather than an intern for an opportunity to learn/get a foot in the door. That last internship I spoke of was in my field, and I was really excited when I found out I’d got it. It was only after my first day did I realise it was not what I thought it would be. ‘Writing press releases’? Yes! Oh, you mean Google some information and put it together in Word? Okay then… ‘Work with industry people’? Um, yaas! Oh, you mean work in the same office as one industry person, but not actually ‘with’ them. Alright…
I understand that some places actually need to have volunteers. I’ve worked quite a few film festivals (and very soon Oz Comic Con!!!!!!!!), and with the sheer amount of people they need, it would be quite impossible to pay them all. However, these positions are only for a few weeks, you get to choose your days, and you get free tickets so it’s not all bad.
It’s only when business’ start to use you that exploitation happens. I’ve been in an unpaid position for a year now (Jesus Christ). What have I learned from this experience? Nothing. Is it relevant to my field? Barely. Why am I still there? Because it’s given me skills that look nice on my resume. Handy for when you’re extreme job hunting. My ‘boss’ has said on more than one occasion that he would pay me if he could. That’s nice. He’s also said that he doesn’t know what he’s going to do once I leave, simply because I do so much around the business. I seriously do so much there, and I feel as though I’m getting nothing in return. Well, I know I’m getting nothing in return, but you know.
Some of my friends are still looking for internships so that they can get their foot in the door. We graduated over a year ago, some of us (see: me) still without jobs they care about, with large lists of credits and experience to our names. Why can’t we find jobs?
In the article, Colleen Chen states that the rise of youth unemployment and the lack of entry-level jobs has contributed to unpaid positions. This is especially relevant when you take a look at job listings. Many businesses don’t want to employ multiple people, so they think they can advertise multiple jobs in one. My friend sent me an opening that required the applicant to develop graphic designs, produce short films, photograph and video events, manage website design using WordPress, HTML, CSS, and maintain the business’ servers. They’re looking for a graphic designer, videographer, and IT person, but only want to pay one person. This was for an entry level job as well, which means that they also wanted to pay as little as possible for a maximum amount of work. Urgh.
It’s times like these when I think I should just create a job for myself.