Increase in virtual internships: working from home

  • A large amount of UK firms are now offering virtual internships, where workers take on digital assignments from the comfort of their homes; all one needs is access to a computer and good internet connection.

    Companies including global law firm Linklaters and financial services firms KPMG and Citibank are advocates of these online internship services, operated by InsideSherpa.

    According to social mobility charity The Sutton Trust, approximately 70,000 ‘real world’ internships are undertaken in the UK.

    A vast amount of these work experiences are unpaid, which puts added pressure on many people who are unable to afford the cost of travel, rent or living costs in large cities.

    For years there have been discussions about the class divide at the heart of unpaid internships; if one does not have the money or the right connections, they won’t be able to compete with those that already can.

    Although many unpaid internships are illegal, the law is not always enforced. According to accumulative statistics gathered from the Institute of Student Employers, The Sutton Trust and the University of Essex in 2018, around 40% of young people who have worked an internship were unpaid.

    Additionally, those who did unpaid internships will earn £3,500 less annually up to four years after graduating, on average, than those who started paid work immediately. Those from lower socioeconomic backgrounds are estimated to be £4,000 worse off, and also 6% less likely to even get a professional job compared with those that went straight into paid work.

    James Turner, the chief executive of The Sutton Trust, told the BBC: “Digital internships could help to break down some of these geographical, social and financial barriers.”

    Employers can also save money and resources, as with virtual internships they can access a wider range of eager workers without the need to make desk space in the office.                                   

    However, Mr. Sutton also pointed out the cons: "We don't want to see a two-tier system formed, where physical internships are the ones with real currency and continue to be accessed by those who are better off and have connections.

    "Then there could be this second set of virtual internship experiences which may not be quite as good at developing employability skills, and may not open as many doors further down the line."

    Some young people that have participated in virtual internships have reported that they have felt lonely and consumed by technology, and many employers still value face-to-face interaction for career-building and progression.

    Nonetheless, there are 373,000 more employees working from home in the UK than 10 years ago, according to the Trades Union Congress. This is a 27% increase, showing that being able to work remotely and flexibly may be becoming a more useful job trait than ever before.


    Sources: BBC, The Guardian

    About the author

    Niamh is a Sync NI writer with a previous background of working in FinTech and financial crime. She has a special interest in sports and emerging technologies. To connect with Niamh, feel free to send her an email or connect on Twitter.

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