For our Christmas appeal, The Spectator is asking its readers not for money, but something more valuable: internship places for teenagers on the books of the Social Mobility Foundation. We made this appeal last year and the response was incredible. Places were offered in law firms, chemical plants and even the royal household. A few readers wrote in, too, to say how much they welcomed the chance not just to do something about Britain’s notorious social mobility problem but to find bright, young teenagers with no connections. The type of young people companies are looking for but are, by definition, hard to find.
I would say that money can’t buy internships, but often it does and placements are sold to the highest bidder in charity auctions. It is a well-meaning gesture but underlines how the real golden tickets – the chance to see and comprehend working life – go to those whose parents have the means or the connections. Our readers are acutely aware of this and would like to change things – but how? The Spectator scheme offers a way. The SMF picks the interns and even pays them. All you need to do is offer desk space for two weeks, or perhaps more. If you don’t have a placement to offer but would like to donate to the SMF, then you can do so here.
We are opening the appeal again this year. If you’re reading this, and would like to help, drop us a line (email email@example.com with INTERNSHIP in the subject headline). You don’t need to be the boss, you just need to have the ear of someone in your company who could offer – at the very least – two weeks work experience to an SMF student. The SMF then picks the best and brightest: straight-A students who qualify for free school meals (or today’s equivalent). People who are bright, who recognise work experience for the golden opportunity that it is and who are a joy to have around the office. The Spectator has had about 50 of them over the years, and we have called back the best ones when he are looking to hire: since the scheme began we have hired three SMF alumni permanently. We have had a longstanding collaboration with the scheme and I’m now a board member, so I can attest that the foundation rigorously assesses its schemes and the follow-up. It has proven so successful that it now has offices in Birmingham, Glasgow, Liverpool, Manchester and Newcastle.
We are all used to reading about social mobility problems. But it’s only as big a problem as we, collectively, want to make it. Internships are, a lot of the time, about who you know. About pulling strings. This Christmas, if you could either offer a place yourself – or badger a friend or relative who could pull strings elsewhere, it could make a huge difference.
I’ll sign off with an response from Bertie Gore Browne whose firm, Gore Browne, took a Southampton student last year.
“We are a small private client investment management business and we have always run an ongoing internship scheme. They are rather different to the norm in that we insist it is for a minimum of four weeks and we have always paid them. With that length of time we feel we can actually achieve some benefit ourselves and it gives the intern a much greater awareness of all the aspects of our business . As the company has grown we have taken on three interns as full time employees so there is the proof of the success of internships.
But it had become very clear that the vast majority of applicants came through our own contacts so seeing the SMF article in The Spectator was a very useful encouragement to widen the net. As a result of the SMF’s involvement, we interviewed three potential candidates and were delighted when a Southampton student came for six weeks this summer. She was delightful and made very useful contributions to many aspects of our business and we hope she might well be back in touch with us when she is looking for employment.”
We know The Spectator’s readers are generous. We also know they are exactly the sort of people who would be willing to pull strings for someone they don’t know – if only they knew how. Our Christmas appeal seeks to give them – you – the opportunity to do just that. Internships in life sciences, medicine, law, finance, accountancy and engineering are particularly welcome.