Thought it was bad luck that didn’t get you that internship placement? Think again.
It’s been a saying for as long as I remember, however, the reality of ‘it’s not what you know but who you know’ couldn’t be sinking into British employment culture any faster. MyInternSwap.com is the latest service to be conceived out of Britain’s forever growing competitive intern and job market. Describing itself as ‘the new old boys network’, the website allows a direct parent-to-parent swap of work experience and internship placements for their children. With jobs from internationally recognised names such as HSBC, ITV, the Royal Navy and most controversially the BBC, families are able to secure their young teenage children sought-after internship placements in exchange for giving that very privilege to somebody else’s child.
Yet it’s not just experience amongst leading international businesses and media bodies that is available through this latest service, but more humbling career paths such as a mechanic, seamstress and even a taxi driver are also on offer. The website and its founder Nick Simmons – who also runs a design agency in Notting Hill – proudly state that the services of MyInternSwap.com provide experience to a variety of career paths, not just high-flying ones, leaving many people arguing that it’s not a case of gliding your way to the top, but being savvy and alternative-minded about getting your foot through the door in the first place.
Now we have all been that person who managed to get our Auntie’s cousin’s best friend’s stepsister to secure you a week of mind-numbing administrative duties (aka sugar-coated free labour) – an experience that enables you to declare the ability to type and proudly organise useless information alphabetically on the glorious pages of your CV. However, this latest strain of internship-family-favours should be rigorously and morally questioned as propping up the archaic pillars of career, and subsequently, life privilege. It’s far from a favour organised by your mum’s ex-colleague (we have all been there too) because the very principle of ‘exchanging’ the employment opportunities creates a ‘you scratch my back I’ll scratch yours’ monopoly of the internship and work experience market, in turn excluding the young people who weren’t born into a world adorned with parents who have the power, and the employability, to do such things.
Such concerns have likewise been expressed by Tanya de Grunwald, the founder and campaigner of careers website Graduate Fog. In an open letter to Simmons, Grunwald wrote: ‘MyInternSwap is a neat idea with a cute name, but it effectively encourages parents in managerial roles in desirable professions to trade CV-enhancing career opportunities amongst each other, locking out those from less privileged backgrounds’. She continued to highlight that, ‘In today’s tough job market, work experience is a valuable commodity so the best placements must be accessible to young people from all backgrounds’.
And Grunwald couldn’t be more correct. We are a society that thrives on the dog-eat-dog nature of the workplace and earning your right to a place within it, but this latest idea takes being born into the comfort of a middle-class, dually employed household to a whole new level. It unapologetically boosts the chances of career success for those whose parents have such success themselves – establishing a chilling cycle of professional success ruthlessly based on class and contacts.
But mechanic or music mogul, this seems to be the direction our career opportunity ladder is heading in; one of many factors catalysing the forever-growing divide between Britain’s rich and poor, employed and unemployed.