Handshake: unpaid internships are common in the arts sector

Unpaid internships are “huge social mobility issue”

Miles Rowland, 05.12.2018
Sutton Trust finds 90% of work placements are unpaid
A recent study has identified the arts as one of the “most problematic sectors” for unpaid internships.

The Pay As you Go? report, carried out by educational charity The Sutton Trust, found that nearly 90% of arts internships were unpaid.

It also identified expectations that young people needed to complete several internships. The arts had one of the highest rates of placements per person, with 32% of interns completing three or more.

Peter Lampl, the founder of the Sutton Trust, pinpointed culture as a desirable sector that is relatively inaccessible to young people from low and moderate-income backgrounds due to the prevalence of unpaid internships.

Lampl added: "This is a huge social mobility issue. It prevents these young people from getting a foot on the ladder."

The report also found that 34% of arts placements showed none of the characteristics of a good internship. Former interns had high rates of unemployment or figured among those on the lowest salaries.

The report comes as parliament debates the Unpaid Work Experience Bill. The bill, which would ban unpaid internships lasting longer than four weeks, is expected to have its second reading debate in the House of Commons on 25 January 2019.

Tamsin Russell, the professional development officer at the Museums Association, said: “We adopt a whole workforce approach to both our membership and our programming and hope to meet the needs of all those contributing to the sector.

“We know that having a diverse workforce that reflects our population and the communities we serve can add richness and relevance.

“This can only be achieved through having an open and accessible approach to entering the sector. This can be facilitated by a range of good practices.

“With respect to internships specifically, principle 3 in the MA’s Code of Ethics talks about the need for fair, consistent and transparent processes. This does not seem to be in place consistently, as highlighted in the Sutton Report, but resonates with their aspirations.”

Creative and Cultural Skills recently produced a guide for employers on best practice relating to apprenticeships, internships, and volunteering earlier this year. The online guide, produced in collaboration with Arts Council England, is available here.

Should unpaid internships lasting longer than four weeks be banned, as the Unpaid Work Experience Bill proposes? Vote in our poll.


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07.12.2018, 17:08
Dear Anonymous,

Thank you for your comment.

We appreciate that museums are under pressure in a number of ways and this quote was not intended to blame but was intended to highlight that there are many things we could all be doing to make the recruitment and selection processes more open and accessible not only for interns, but for staff and volunteers also.

Diversifying the workforce is not a quick fix but should be a strategic aim, where the term diversity is used in its broadest sense.

Internships are just one way to do that; and they can be transformational for the individuals and the organisations involved. And so as part of this we need to ensure that internships are advertised widely and interns are selected objectively.

This was the intention of the quote in the article and in direct the response to the Sutton Report.

We know it is very difficult for museums and we want to support the sector in anyway we can and that certainly wouldn’t be about blaming but more about helping.

I am really happy to talk about this in more detail so feel free to email me tamsin@museumsassociation.org

best wishes


07.12.2018, 10:26
Dear Tamsin, I wish you wouldn't express the issue in terms of us not having a diverse workforce because we don't have 'an open and accessible approach to entering the sector'. That puts all the blame on museums, for not being able to acquire a perfectly diverse workforce. At present most museums are struggling so badly with cuts that they feel they have little choice but to get volunteers to do what was a paid job only a year previously, or, having made a curatorial post redundant, to push a low paid intern in there instead. It's a disgrace, yes, and shouldn't be happening, as it's deeply unfair on everyone, and a major reason why so many are going off sick with stress, but I do get annoyed with the view that it is somehow all museums' fault for our bad attitudes, whereas it is primarily a funding issue. If all we have to offer are unpaid or low paid, insecure, part-time, short-term jobs, we are not going to get diverse applicants. And those kinds of jobs ARE all we have to offer, increasingly, if we have jobs to offer at all. Most of the time we don't have jobs to offer: we just make posts redundant to meet the next lot of budget cuts required by the Council and expect existing staff to absorb the extra work. So the highly able candidate from a low income background can't even get on the first rung of the ladder, while an existing staff member is buckling at the knees doing four jobs!