Internships are not volunteering opportunities, nor should they be treated as such. They are, for many, a necessary first step into the charity sector and the majority of those who accept are younger people who cannot afford to say no. Volunteering, on the other hand, is done by choice and at leisure.
In fact, many of these “job” advertisements are at odds with the law governing unpaid internships. Employers should not be expecting or demanding set hours, rather interns should be free to come and go as they please. One charity’s advert generously concedes there is a “small amount of flexibility in [working hours], which can be discussed prior to the interview stage”. This is surely not in line with legislation.
There is a distinct lack of graduate employment opportunities in the not-for-profit sector. Instead, many young people have no option but to find schemes elsewhere. We are, surely, missing a trick here to attract fresh new talent and ideas.
Attaching a salary to an entry level job encourages and enables diversity – it stops the sector from being only accessible by the rich who can afford to work without being paid. We only have to look to our partners in the civil service to see how the fast stream has increased diversity, nurtured young talent and created a wider recruitment pool.
It seems obvious to me that apprenticeships are a practical way of incubating and developing talent. Apprentices are paid a low wage in exchange for the development opportunities offered by a structured programme – so it’s easy on the purse strings.
Many in the sector would argue that there is no difference between internships and volunteering. As a lifelong volunteer, I believe they do offer people the opportunity to learn, network and develop. But, that has to be on their terms and not just the charity’s. As central as volunteering posts are to the sector, they are not de facto job roles.