Are internships exploitive?
There has been a lot of comment, misinformation and discussion on the internet regarding the current opportunity for an intern at World Land Trust (WLT), and even on the WLT’s Facebook pages. It would therefore be useful if I put on record the WLT’s position.
From time to time we advertise for interns. These positions last six months, and obviously we ensure they comply with all current legislation; they are not, as one Facebook poster stated “illegal in the UK”.
Another poster claimed that “if you have the money to buy up rainforest around the world you have the money to pay a living wage”. Not true; the donations made by the public to buy up rainforest are restricted funds and cannot be used to support interns.
The same correspondent also claims that “On this basis the CEO should be working for free.” Having worked much of my life on a voluntary basis for conservation, and having subsidised even my paid work from other sources, I don’t really know how to respond to that. I only got to be CEO of the WLT because of experience gained through a huge amount of voluntary work over the years.
Another correspondent criticised the overseas placements on conservation projects costing over £3,000. I agree, and do not recommend this as a way forward in a career.
Those that have been interns have nothing but praise for the chance, and most have gone on to careers of their choice. Out of 30 interns in the past decade, 60 per cent have gone directly into employment, and five have gone on to PhDs or Masters’. Others have gone on to volunteer overseas.
Another way of looking at it is as an alternative to further education. You could pay £9,000 in fees alone, living costs on top of that, and spend a year doing a Master’s, and still have no work experience at the end of it. Or you could do an internship with the WLT, no fees, although incur unavoidable living costs, and have work experience that will give you a very good chance of getting a job.
The WLT would like to offer bursaries and subsidies to interns, but we simply don’t have the funds. And interns don’t have to apply. Our primary mission is to conserve wildlife and habitats, we offer internships as an educational benefit – they cost us a significant amount of time and energy to run. I can assure all the negative commentators that the interns do not take the place of a qualified, experienced, paid member of staff. We could manage perfectly well without them. However, I believe the WLT can help young, enthusiastic, committed conservationists on the ladder to a worthwhile career. If you are only interested in money, I strongly suggest you do not even consider a career in conservation.
The fundamental problem is that internships vary enormously. And some are undoubtedly exploitive. But it would be helpful if those attacking them were at least clear of the facts about individual internships. And I will end by re-iterating: they are voluntary, no one has to apply for them. Ill-informed negative feedback could cause us to stop offering them and, in my view, the losers would be young, unemployed conservationists.