Prospects, part of Jisc, survey of more than 3,000 university and sixth form/college students shows that since a quarter of students lost their work experience opportunity as a result of the pandemic, just 17% of students have undertaken work experience in the last year.
University students said that the biggest barrier to finding work has been having the required work experience for the vacancies they were interested in.
Prospects Early Careers Survey 2021: Work experience during a crisis also showed that internships were most likely to have been face-to-face (44%) while 21% were blended (virtual and in person) and 35% solely online.
Nearly two-thirds (59%) of students said they had not been paid for their work experience with 83% of sixth form/college students working unpaid compared to 52% of university students. Female and BAME students were more likely to work unpaid.
More than half (51%) of unpaid work experience lasted for at least four weeks and one in six worked without pay for more than six months.
It appears that students are being asked to work for longer lengths of time without pay. Sixty two per cent of university students worked unpaid for more than four weeks in 2020/21 compared to 41% in the 2018 survey. The trend was similar in the sixth form/college group with 27% compared to 18% in 2018.
Despite the majority of students finding work experience useful for developing skills, how programmes are delivered, the duration and whether they are paid have an impact on how much value students get out of them with paid, face-to-face opportunities the most useful. Generally, the longer a student spends on a programme the more value they deem it to be for developing skills.
Jayne Rowley, executive director for Jisc student services, Prospects said: “Social distancing and lockdown have decimated the availability of work experience opportunities impacting young people’s development of essential skills through work-based learning. Those graduating this summer may be entering the workplace for the first time as a flexible or home worker including remote induction and onboarding without any on-site experience behind them. It’s vital that careers professionals, employers and educators come together to make work experience work this year.
“Besides the legal and ethical questions over asking young people to work for free and often in person during a pandemic, we have to consider the economic and personal pressures students have been under.
“Opportunities for work experience are scarce at the moment and unpaid internships have always favoured students with more affluent backgrounds. As well as the increase in opportunities through family networks, they are also more likely to be able to afford to work for free. Social mobility is a casualty of Covid-19 and unpaid internships are part of the problem. We know that internships are massively valuable in launching careers, but we shouldn’t trade this for the basic right to be paid a fair day’s wage for a fair day’s work.”
With growing concern about the impact of the pandemic on unpaid internships, Jisc is part of a cross-sector group, convened by the Association of Graduate Careers Advisory Services (AGCAS). The group is developing a framework to support universities and employers to help students evaluate the value of opportunities and empower them to identify the opportunities that are right for them.