Calls for code of practice on graduate internships

Creative & Cultural Skills has proposed that a code of practice on graduate placements in the creative industries be introduced, in a bid to end the practice of unpaid internships.

The call comes after the organisation urged employers in the sector to do more to make it accessible to young people, by providing better information and guidance on finding work (www.designweek., 21 August).

C&CS also believes that it is up to employers to stamp out the practice of unpaid internships, which have been singled out as a factor in making the creative industries difficult to break into.

Tom Bewick, chief executive of C&CS, says, ‘It’s the culture of recruitment that needs to change, not the law.’

Catherine Large, external relations director for C&CS, adds, ‘Obviously, it is very hard to come down on employers who are just trying to run a business. They will obviously ask, “Why should I pay interns when there are people queuing up to work for free?”

What we propose is that there should be a code of practice for employers to follow, which could cover issues such as providing internships for a decent length of time, and paying people as much as possible.’

Large says this code should be formed by employers or trade bodies working together to tackle the issue.

D&AD, in its remit as an educational charity, already has a series of guidelines for running graduate placement schemes. Laura Woodroffe, D&AD director of education and professional development, says she wants the organisation to disseminate this information more effectively to consultancies, students and tutors.

Woodroffe says, ‘My personal view is that unpaid internships are a problem – they’re obviously not right.’ She adds, ‘We don’t want to police consultancies on this issue, but we do want to offer advice and guidance.’

The D&AD guidelines, which are currently being reviewed, set out criteria such as the minimum and maximum lengths of time internships should run for, and the minimum amounts graduates should be paid.

Woodroffe says, ‘There can be a bit of a generation gap with this issue. Most people who run consultancies now took unpaid internships when they were graduates and say, “We did this and we were grateful for it.” But they didn’t have to pay for their education then and didn’t graduate with thousands of pounds of debt.’


  • Graduates and students rated making contacts, networking and ‘real-world feedback’ as the most important benefits
  • When asked to describe a good placement, ‘live briefs’ and ‘good feedback’ were the aspects most cited
  • When asked to describe a bad placement, too much time spent ‘making the tea’ seemed to be the biggest complaint

    Research by D&AD and Wunderman

Hide Comments (15)Show Comments (15)
  • Sarah Drummond November 30, -0001 at 12:00 am

    What a great step.

  • Jonathan Baldwin November 30, -0001 at 12:00 am

    Something we said, Sarah? 😉

  • Francesca Logan November 30, -0001 at 12:00 am

    About time something was done to correct the industries failure to allow ‘breaking in’ to be accessible to all

  • Jonathan Baldwin November 30, -0001 at 12:00 am

    Just a reminder that there’s a difference between an internship and a placement. A placement is temporary, an internship is the start of a relationship. It brings responsibilities on both parties, the main one being to develop the intern’s understanding of the way business is done, an opportunity to shadow people in different departments from finance to art direction to account management.

    The danger here is that people will confuse the two. Placements are dips of the toe in to the water, and should ideally happen during vacations while studying.
    Internships are the beginnings of a career.

    They are not, however, “trial periods” for jobs. If there’s a vacancy, fill it.
    The code of practice needs to define these things clearly.

  • Peter Brown November 30, -0001 at 12:00 am

    finally this is a god sent, one of the biggest and most significant problems to growing the creative industries to finally achieve….world domination!

  • Kate Andrews November 30, -0001 at 12:00 am

    Brilliant step forward. Jonathan – I think our ranting has paid off! excuse the pun. It will be interesting to see how this pans out – lets keep close eyes on this in reality.

  • Simon Winter November 30, -0001 at 12:00 am

    This could be a great move – it may stop new designers making prostitutes of themselves, only to go on in their career doing the same thing on a larger scale.

  • Lena Bailey November 30, -0001 at 12:00 am

    It’s about time… A well awaited step!!!

  • Maxine J Horn November 30, -0001 at 12:00 am

    Today we recieved an email from:

    “Employer Engagement is a training company working in partnership with Jobcentre Plus helping graduates into the workplace by providing a work experience scheme with individual training and mentoring support”.

    It is offering 13 to 26 week ‘unpaid’ work placements. Attached was an excellent Imperial College Graduate CV.

    BDI itself, a not for profit trade association, has run a continuous graduate and work experience placement scheme for the past 7 years. We always pay final year and graduates, most of whom work 2 to 3 days a week, and at peak summer break time we might have 3 students on staff for 3 to 6 months. In most instances at least one of those placements has resulted in a full-time job or a launch pad for their careers. We pay double the minimum wage and provide normal employment benefits including holiday allowance. Three past graduates have remained with BDI for more than 3 years.

    We see no reason why graduates or final year students undertaking actual work charged to clients or otherwise should not be paid positions.

    However, if the Employee Engagement organisation backed by the Job Centre is offering staff for free (albeit with mentoring and time off for job seeking provisos) – is that not flying in the face of the call for a code of conduct from private sector employers.

    Yet another case of lack of joined up public sector thinking and actions.

    BDI agree with the Creative & Cultural Skills Council – but before pointing the finger at private sector yet again – get the public sector message co-ordinated first.

    We will look at the excellent candidate offered ‘free’ by the Employer Engagement Organisation and Job Centre and if the candidiate is suitable we will provide a placement – but we will pay a weekly wage regardless of their free offer.

    Stop the free placements – but first stop the government offering them.

  • Shun.M November 30, -0001 at 12:00 am

    I’m glad to hear that this has finally been proposed. Looking for internships and reading the words
    “unpaid, will pay for lunch”
    made me disappointed that the industry I wanted to work for demanded a graduate or anyone else to only work for lunch.

  • Shun November 30, -0001 at 12:00 am

    I’m glad to hear that this has finally been proposed. Looking for internships and reading the words
    “unpaid, will pay for lunch”
    made me disappointed that the industry I wanted to work for demanded a graduate or anyone else to only work for lunch.

  • Matt November 30, -0001 at 12:00 am

    Excellent news. I’m not optimistic this will be successful however. The need for regulation has clearly peaked in very recent years. This is surely due to the fact there are simply too many graduates. At present it is the wealthy graduates who get the jobs. Or at least those who are able to live within commuting distance of London and are able to work for free for months on end. Therefore there will always be those fortunate individuals at the front of the queue and no set of guidelines is going to stop this.

  • Laura Woodroffe November 30, -0001 at 12:00 am

    Just following on from Maxine’s comment regarding pointing fingers at the private sector – we should be clear that this is by no means a new conversation and that the private sector are not universally guilty of rampant exploitation. As long as nine years ago Chris O’Shea, then at the advertising agency Banks Hoggins O’Shea wote an open letter to his peers in the industry challenging them to change their practices. He received a lot of support from within the industry and actually many agencies have changed their practices, without any need for legislation. There is no reason for the same not to be true of design and their are many people working in design now who feel as passionately about this as the graduates affected. In many cases what is needed is education – small agencies have hit the ground running, are simply repeating what happened to them and haven’t had a chance to formalise their approach. Guidelines will help those people. They also help the students and in some cases their tutors who have grown up in this environment and don’t realise that things could be different or that they have a right to ask for certain things. The more that do, regardless of their own financial situation, the less the culture becomes acceptable.

  • Martin November 30, -0001 at 12:00 am

    I’m on placement at the moment and what I’m paid doesn’t even cover my travel to London, I feel exploited.

  • Fiona Dungay November 30, -0001 at 12:00 am

    I agree with at least paying a minimum wage to interns.

    When i graduated in 2003 it was only the select few from my degree course who were in a position to take placements in big name design studios. They all had parents living in London where they could stay rent free and survived up to a year of unpaid interning with bar jobs and parental hand-outs.

    Others among us still persevered and entered the industry without internships, but it took longer, required an extra helping of hard work and a certain amount of playing catch-up once we made it into our first junior designer role.

    Paying interns will level out the playing field and allow graduates from different and less privileged backgrounds to come into the fore.

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