By Vicki Hughes, MD at Fugu PR

With youth unemployment at 15.9%, growing competition for jobs, and many of us requesting professional experience for entry-level positions it is harder than ever for graduates to kick-start their careers.

The 2012 Wilson Review of business-university collaboration found that “lack of work experience appears as a key barrier to young people, including graduates, in securing employment.”

The sad reality is that we’ve created a culture where graduates view unpaid work as a necessary evil when it comes to securing employment. And even when they are paid, 41% of interns find the compensation isn’t enough to cover their expenses.

So how should those of us running businesses respond to this?

Since its inception, my business Fugu PR, has paid a Living Wage, as defined by the Living Wage Foundation, and has recently registered for accreditation. Here’s why:

It’s good for business

A six month internship in London costs £926 per month (Internship or Indenture, Sutton Trust.) But having the means to spend over £5,000 for a placement does not guarantee ability.

If we limit internships to those who can support themselves without needing a salary, we are missing out on a wealth of talent. By paying a fair Living Wage we set a level platform, opening up opportunity to those from low and middle income families too. It means that we get the pick of the best people out there.

Paying a fair wage is a good reward for good work. It is likely to lead to a higher quality of support from an intern and for the role to be taken more seriously. Essentially, by respecting our interns we also gain respect. They give commitment to the role when they are being paid, and they remain committed. Furthermore, interns are enthusiastic and keen to impress, bringing benefits for the entire team.

Finding and training good interns can be a way of finding and keeping the best long-term talent for a business – it can help improve staff retention, cutting time and money spent on recruiting.

In the service sector, we are as good as the people in the business; the level we pay them reflects their value and worth to us.

It’s good for society

A study by Wilson and Pickett from the Equality Trust found that income inequality is high and social mobility low in the UK.

Countries where the pay gap is smaller, such as Sweden and Norway, have much higher social mobility, making it easier for those from lower-income families to improve their prospects through hard work.

With 65% of UK interns relying on financial support from their parents and 84% of people over 35 saying a young person in their family couldn’t afford an unpaid internship in the capital, it quickly becomes apparent that this is about opportunity, lives and livelihoods, not just the bottom line.

How did we get here?

I’m not sure how we got into this situation, with so much unpaid labour being acceptable. To my mind, we should always pay those working for us, to reward and respect those providing their time and talent, in whatever role they deliver.

Before the National Minimum Wage was introduced, critics said it would lead to fewer jobs. They were proven wrong. At Fugu, our interns free up other team members with the work they do and provide real value. Some of them have also gone on to be counted among our most talented consultants. If the work assigned to them is unnecessary, unpaid or not respected, then what value do we bring them or our businesses by encouraging them to self-fund such a placement?

The Living Wage Foundation

Accreditation by the Living Wage Foundation is about being willing to wear your values on your sleeve and not being afraid to be held to account. With more than 1500 businesses now listed as Living Wage employers, it’s clearly striking chord. Modern businesses recognise the importance of supporting the human beings within their organisations, as well as their customers and clients.

I firmly believe that it is the responsibility of all Living Wage employers to be vocal about their involvement, sharing their reasons and experience. By doing so, we help to drive the campaign forward, encouraging more businesses to follow suit and support young people with a passion to work.