The Work Experience may be a ‘mockumentary’, but this is real. I am a final year fashion journalism student and have done seven work experience placements, ranging from national newspapers and magazines to a local paper in London. I feel grateful for the experiences I have had and for the insight they have given me into the industry I want to work in, but there have been moments when my eagerness has been tested. I am still searching to find exactly what I learnt from delivering personal dry cleaning, doing personal ironing or steaming clothes for nine hours without a break. But despite the errands I have been asked to undertake on work experience I feel lucky: my experiences are nothing compared to the horror stories that I have heard from my peers. You do the job because you want a job, and the reality is that there isn’t much you wouldn’t do. The real rub comes when you remember that you are not even being paid.
Exploitation of young people in the fashion industry is endemic, yet it is an issue that remains largely unchallenged. Who wants to be the ‘work experience’ (as we are referred to) who complained? I certainly didn’t think that it would be me.
That was until I remembered that journalism is about having a voice. Instead of investigating a real issue within its own industry The Work Experience makes a cheap joke out of a serious situation. And the only reason it gets away with it is that the group of people it represents have no way of retaliating – they have no voice. But I am ‘the work experience’, and I am not laughing.
At the end of the programme, and after the degrading tasks the interns perform, the set-up is revealed and the lucky pair are offered a month’s work experience placement at a real fashion PR agency. At least the placement is paid, but it makes me wonder what lengths I am expected to go to as a young person trying to make a career for myself. Everyone has to start from the bottom, but where does experience end and exploitation begin?