According to the first study of its kind, unpaid internships can leave graduates financially worse-off three years after their internship than their graduate counterparts who went straight into employment.
Many new graduates believe an internship is an excellent way into their chosen career path or a way to find out if it is for them. However, the study carried out by the Institute for Social and Economic Research at the University of Essex found that 3 and a half years after graduating, former interns earned a salary of £3500 less than those who went into a job. Furthermore, former interns had a 15% reduction in the likelihood of entering professional or managerial roles and an 8.8% reduction in the likelihood of them being satisfied with their career path.
Speaking about these shocking results, Dr Angus Holford – who carried out the study – said that
“I expect some people will find an internship that enables them to the job they really want to do and that will have the big labour-market return but, on average, an internship won’t lead directly to a job in the profession you really wanted or the profession you did the internship in.”
These results are surprising considering that, from 2007 to 2011, the percentage of graduates who entered into an internship trebled, from 0.5% to 1.5%.
The study, which used tens of thousands of participants over a 6-year period, also found that interns who were from privileged backgrounds – such as if they were privately schooled, or their parents were in well-paid, high power positions – were the most likely to have the more sought-after internships.
However – some positive news did come out of the study for former interns. Graduates who did not enter employment or took up an unpaid internship after employment for six months – for example remaining unemployed or travelling – were less likely to be “very satisfied” with their career later in life than a former intern.