Skip to content

Internships and the graduate labour market

Student thesis: Doctoral Thesis

The ‘dual view’ of internships articulated in the literature and more widely holds that, on the one hand, they are thought to develop employability and are a stepping stone to particular careers or industries, while at the same time they are potentially exploitative and exclusionary. Unpaid internships present a barrier to social mobility because less-advantaged graduates are less likely to be able to forgo wages for any length of time whereas paid internships are unproblematic. This thesis challenges this view on two levels. Firstly, while paid internships do appear to help in the graduate labour market unpaid internships do not, and actually have a negative effect on earnings. Secondly, although those from less well-off backgrounds are less likely to do unpaid internships, after controlling for other factors, it is the more beneficial, paid internships that they struggle to secure.
The research employed quantitative data from two sources: secondary analysis of the 2011/12 Destinations of Leavers from Higher Education Survey (DLHE), and a bespoke survey of 616 creative arts, media and communications graduates surveyed two to six years after graduation. The research found: 1) internships are a small but significant part of the graduate labour market, particularly in some subject areas and industries, and unpaid internships are more common than previously estimated; 2) not all internships are equal, with paid internships generally of a higher level and more beneficial in the labour market than unpaid ones; 3) while paid internships do appear to help graduates earn more and get a creative or graduate level job, unpaid internships do not and actually lead to lower pay in the short to medium term; 4) while those from disadvantaged backgrounds are less likely to do internships (paid or unpaid), contrary to expectations, it was the more beneficial paid internships that disadvantaged graduates struggle to secure.
The findings contribute to three main debates in the sociology of employment literature. First, they provide evidence of increasingly individualised and uncertain transitions from education to employment, where graduates must take responsibility for developing employability by ‘auditioning’ for real jobs. Second, the findings challenge the ‘conventional’ view of a meritocratic labour market by showing that access to the best opportunities continues to be moulded by social class, and not just educational credentials. Third, the findings reveal that the classed patterns of advantage and disadvantage already evident in the education system extend well into the graduate labour market.
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
Supervisors/Advisors
Award dateSep 2016
Relations Get citation (various referencing formats)

ID: 8450083