Chapter 5: Challenging the assumptions supporting work experience as a pathway to employment
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Unpaid interns appear to be a growing, yet uniquely vulnerable sector of the workforce. This chapter examines two fundamental assumptions supporting the proliferation of unpaid work experience: firstly, that it is possible to acquire a competitive advantage over peers in the labour market by participating; and secondly, that those who participate acquire enhanced employability and employment outcomes. Drawing on available evidence which challenges some of the espoused benefits of unpaid work, the chapter shows that as unpaid work experience becomes a central dimension of tertiary study, previous differentiation benefits are potentially erased. We also find mixed evidence on employment outcomes, although high-quality experiences appear to improve employment outcomes more than low-quality placements. Further research is warranted which addresses the economic and social impacts of work experience arrangements and closely interrogates why, how and at what cost work experience should be enhanced.

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