The UK Museums Association has released guidelines on internships. Taking a ‘positive view’ of the potential of internships, they do however recognise that there should be value for both the museum and the person doing the interning. That is to say, that making coffee or filing is probably not what an intern has in mind when they apply for museum experience.
It goes on to to state:
The MA believes that all internships should:
- Pay reasonable work-related expenses and give interns reasonable access to staff benefits (such as free tickets to exhibitions or events).
- Be planned and structured with a clear brief, specific job content and a named line manager or supervisor.
- Give a clear outline of what is being offered to interns, and what is expected of the intern.
- Offer an agreed training and development plan with the intern, setting out what learning opportunities will be offered.
- Ensure that potential interns are told whether there is a realistic chance of the internship leading on to employment.
- Be of a minimum of eight weeks and a maximum 12 months (if paid) and a maximum of three months (if unpaid).
However, elsewhere on their site, they have an article that also highlights some of the problems - such as the threat to workplace diversity (those who can afford to work for free and the real possibility that people will end up feeling ‘exploited and undervalued’). And this in a climate where paid traineeships and internships are wildly oversubscribed (five places at the British Museum attracted 1533 applications and 3200 graduates for 20 places in Scotland).
Here in Austria, the situation isn’t any better. Routinely, longer-term, unpaid internships (or those with a small degree of funding - roughly €300/£240/$380 per month) are advertised in the jobs section with the sort of required candidate qualifications to be expected of entry-level and above jobs and job descriptions to match.
I know, museums are underfunded and rely to some degree on the willingness of well-educated people to work for less money than they would get in other sectors, if they get paid at all. However, it is exclusionary practice. I work part-time (30 hours per week) to fund my way through my PhD. It makes the PhD a very slow process and so I wanted to gather some practical experience at the same time. Keep my hand in, as it were. I have one full day per week that I wanted to give to a museum on a long term basis. Perhaps I could proofread English materials for them? Do tours for them? I don’t want something really that relies on the fact that I am a native English speaker - especially when I have spent so much time learning German! - but I was prepared to help out. No takers. I know the downside of having someone who only comes once per week, but no one was even prepared to meet me and discuss the possibility.
And so, the cycle of having to work (anywhere) to fund studies to get a museum job hinders the actual studying and interning that would help me get said job. Does anyone know of any schemes or museums that have found a way to alleviate the situation? Have you worked out a way out of this conundrum?