A note on exploitation

I wrote this article for Desktop Magazine in 2012. Here is an updated version for you. I use the term 'studio' to represent any type of design-lead business.

We get a real kick out of meeting students and mentoring graduates.

We’re always out there providing advice, feedback and giving our time so the younger, less-experienced people in our industry have valid, current and professional information to help them forge a career in design, advertising, branding or whatever field they choose to pursue.

From time to time we come across graduates who have been offered or just completed ‘work placement’ or ‘work experience’ or an ‘internship’; and often they are doing it for free.

It shocks me that there are creative agencies out there today that are exploiting students and young graduates by offering work placement completely unpaid or for a ‘nominal fee’.

To have someone work for you and not pay them at the very least, a minimum legal wage, is exploitation.

Our industry is filled with an outpouring of graduates each year vying for a very small number of positions. They are constantly told that ‘experience’ is what they need to ‘get a foot in the door’.

Most of these people go through their studies idolising some creative agencies for the work they do and for their thinking and philosophy on design and creativity.

At the same time our industry has businesses that exploit this idolisation of their own work and invite graduates to work for them for free under the guise of work experience or internship.

If you are a student, graduate or anyone considering doing unpaid work placement, here are five things I think you should consider when someone offers you an unpaid work placement, internship or work experience.

  1. If the studio is getting paid for the work you are doing for them, you should get paid too.
  2. If the studio can afford to run a business and employ paid staff, you should get paid too.
  3. If the studio can do great, sometimes award-winning work and get paid for it by clients, you deserve to get paid too.
  4. If their business model leverages unpaid labour to make a profit, their business is built on invalid foundations.
  5. Never work for free.