So over the course of the last few years, the recession has proved difficult for architectural practices to take on architectural students. They have difficulty keeping on their qualified staff, never mind having to pay students for their time, and to be fair having to teach the students while they're in employment. Especially if the architectural students are RIBA part 1 students as this will most likely be their first experience of a practice and how things are run in the real world. As a result of this, many many companies, (and this isn't just directed at architectural companies) have been offering unpaid internships. Students need experience before returning to higher education and the companies cannot afford to pay them, so offer an unpaid internship with - if they're lucky - some basic expenses such as travel and lunches covered. The idea behind this makes a lot of sense; as a student if you're struggling to find somewhere for experience and you are told by the governing body RIBA that it is a requirement before you can further your education, then many people may just think this is acceptable and part of the many debt inducing consequences of choosing to study architecture.
However, you would never ask a graduate in any other field of study who holds a Bachelors degree to accept no pay for their first job. Perhaps if the job was a summer position and between years of study, it would be acceptable; gaining hands on experience in the field before graduating and finding a paying job. It is actually legal to offer unpaid internships for a period of three months, and I'm certain this is what it was aimed at - summer internships.
Architecture requires an entire year of work experience, between Bachelors and Diploma/Masters, although RIBA has conveniently altered the requirements down to a minimum of three months recorded experience. Again, to be fair to RIBA this is to ensure the students aren't missing out and can still gain the agreed credits and head back to further education. But, it has instead helped to contribute to architecture practices getting away with only offering three month unpaid internships.
You are either studying or have studied architecture, so you know as well as anyone that it is an expensive course. It has to be one of the longest courses and it requires a lot of financial input. There are course fees, materials, accommodation costs and general cost of living. For at least seven years. SEVEN. If you're on the fast track. You don't even have time to pick up a decent part time job to keep you going, and during the summer months you'll probably require a good job to save up and help towards the next year. I cannot imagine the amount of debt full time architecture students rack up in their seven years. Especially if they live in England or Wales where they are paying course fees as well.
So with this in mind, I really can't understand practices that have the audacity to offer unpaid internships. Do you think these students are made of money? That they have rich parents or an inherited trust fund? If these are the interns you are taking on, then you've condemned the regular middle or working class student and hindered their educational progression and put the privileged one step ahead.
Another argument in favour of offering unpaid internships is that the practice puts time and effort into teaching the students, but my counter argument would be that if any person in your office is contributing to your practice making money then they should be paid for their time. They make you money, you pay them money. Simple.
I know it's a hot topic of late, and times are hard. Students need the necessary experience and those who don't gain it begin to question their continued studies. Practices are all struggling to keep going and I think it's admirable that they wish to take on students and give them experience. I just don't think it should be at the expense of the student. While they are working for your practice they require money for accommodation, food and living expenses...if you are not paying them, where do you expect them to get this money? There really is no debate. A graduate can voluntarily provide their skills if they wish but practices should not be offering unpaid internships.