The argument over whether or not unpaid work experience amounts to “slave labour” is in danger of discouraging employers from offering placements at all and risks denying young people a route into permanent employment.
This is the warning from the Chartered Institute for Personnel and Development (CIPD), which says that good-quality work experience provides an invaluable way for young people to build skills and get into paid employment.
The comments follow a debate over the ethics of unpaid work-experience placements that was sparked when an advert was posted on the Jobcentre Plus website for a permanent night-shift worker position at Tesco, paying only “jobseeker’s allowance plus expenses”.
Tesco quickly moved to calm critics by saying that the advert was posted in error and was meant to be for a work-experience placement offered through the Government’s Work Programme. However, many still questioned the ethics of getting people to work such roles without being paid the minimum wage.
Under the Work Programme, young jobseekers are offered the chance to take up unpaid work experience for up to eight weeks while claiming jobseeker’s allowance, in order to help them gain employment. The scheme has attracted criticism, however, because young people taking up the offer of work experience can have their jobseeker’s allowance removed if they fail to complete the placement.
Katerina Rüdiger, skills policy adviser at the CIPD, argued that work-experience placements are a vital step for young people in gaining employment and that the row could put employers off providing them.
“With youth unemployment in the UK at an all-time high, we should be doing all we can to encourage employers to help young people, not deter them,” she said. “In the current labour market, experience of the working world is the single most important aspect employers look for when recruiting, so without it young people struggle to get a job.
“Work experience is a proven way of giving young people a first step on the employment ladder; it enhances their employability by giving them insight and experience of the workplace.”
The CIPD added that offering work experience can benefit employers by providing new perspectives for specific projects, helping them develop talent and skills for the future and providing management and mentoring opportunities for staff.