In my recent BBC2 documentary, Posh & Posher, I explained how networking and contacts played a crucial role in giving those with the right connections an early leg up in their careers.
Internships and work experience are proving increasingly crucial to opening doors and opportunities in later life. Many have expressed the view that the best intern and work experience opportunities in fields like politics, finance and the media are going disproportionately to those who are already privileged and well-connected. From what I’ve seen myself in recent years I suspect that to be true.
The Mail on Sunday gives a classic example (and a potentially embarrassing one for the Tories) of how it can work. At the Conservative Black & White Party (they don’t call it a ball anymore) last week they had an auction to raise party funds. Fair enough. All parties do that.
But a number of the lots for auction included internships and work experience at some of the country’s top financial institutions. The well-heeled Tory faithful bid around £3,000 each for their offspring to spend a couple of weeks at various prestigious hedge funds, City PR companies, trading houses and finance houses.
The experience and contacts made there will no doubt be invaluable to the youngsters lucky enough to have parents who won the bidding. But note how those from already privileged backgrounds — attending the party cost a minimum of £400 per head — are able to skew matters to their further advantage, not just in terms of the schools they can afford or the top universities they can get into but in something so basic as work experience.
In today’s incredibly competitive labour markets work experience matters more than ever when it comes to securing that first rung on the ladder. Companies might like to think how they make their internships open to as wide a selection of the talented from all backgrounds as they can. I suggest that internships granted on the basis of parents who can afford £400 a head for dinner then £3,000 per internship cannot be regarded as entirely fair or meritocratic.
This blog was originally published at Andrew Neil’s BBC Daily Politics blog.