Some of Britain’s largest employers are backing a campaign to collectively take on 10,000 black interns over the next five years.
The initiative aims to enhance the career prospects of young black people through paid work experience across a range of sectors, to create “a sustainable, growing expansion in the quality and quantity of opportunities for black people in the UK”.
Interns will undergo a minimum of four weeks’ work experience and be paid at least the living wage, as set by the Living Wage Foundation.
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The campaign was prompted by the success of the investment management industry’s 100 Black Interns initiative earlier this year – which saw 200 investment management companies offering internships to black students.
The 10,000 Black Interns internships will take place in the winter of 2021 and summer of 2022. The campaign’s aim is for companies in more than 20 sectors to each offer 100 internships a year for five years, to reach the overall goal of 10,000 internships.
Members of the University Alliance, Russell Group, GuildHE and MillionPlus will promote the programme on campuses to drive applications.
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The interns will be expected to commit to a “longer-term responsibility to advise, mentor and sponsor other black pupils and students, with the goal being to create more high-quality career opportunities for black people over a prolonged period”, according to the campaign announcement.
Abdul Wahab, diversity and inclusion adviser at the CIPD, said the initiative would help “open pathways into careers that ethnic minorities have previously found difficult to enter”.
“One of the key reasons people from ethnic minority backgrounds have been unable to take up internships in the past has been that they are mostly unpaid. So it is welcome news that these internships will be paid, making them a viable option for more ethnic minority jobseekers,” he said.
Wahab added that the programme would also help young people who had missed out on training opportunities because of the pandemic. “We hope more employers consider offering paid internships, opening up opportunities to a much more diverse pool of talent,” he said.
Sandra Kerr, race director at Business in the Community, also welcomed the campaign. “The 10,000 Black Interns project symbolises thousands of doors being thrown open across the country for young black people,” she said.
“This principle is a powerful one, not least because our own research shows that 47 per cent of black people are likely to look for role models inside and outside the workplace and 50 per cent would like a fast-track opportunity.”
Those behind the campaign are: Dawid Konotey-Ahulu, co-founder of Redington and Mallowstreet; Jonathan Sorrell, president of Capstone Investment Advisors; Michael Barrington-Hibbert, founder of Barrington Hibbert Associates; and Wol Kolade, managing partner of Livingbridge.
The Confederation of British Industry, Association of British Insurers, NHS, PwC, Zurich, Credit Suisse, Russell Reynolds Associates and Linklaters are among those already signed up in support.
Other companies in a number of sectors – including accountancy, education, health data management, healthcare management, insurance, investment management, law, marketing and advertising, and recruitment – have also committed to support the campaign.
Former prime minister David Cameron was also among the scheme’s supporters. “This initiative will help build a more inclusive economy that works for everyone. We are encouraging leaders from British industry and professional services to champion the effort in their sector,” he said. Meanwhile, Labour peer Baroness Amos described the campaign as “a great step in the right direction”.
This initiative should be just one part of a wider push, however, Kerr added: “Internships are just the beginning – the real test comes further down the line in the form of long-term development. We know that 74 per cent of black employees say that progression is important to them but it is too often something they are denied.”
Suki Sandhu, founder of INvolve, agreed the campaign was a “really positive and encouraging initiative” but not the whole solution: “Companies need also to focus on creating inclusive cultures and this takes long-term action – so it is important that enthusiasm around race inclusion is not side-lined as the Black Lives Matter protests subside."
An open letter launched by Sandhu earlier this year called on firms to commit to taking action on black inclusion and reporting on their progress on a yearly basis. It has been signed by 70 business leaders to date, across companies including Microsoft UK, the London Stock Exchange, Balfour Beatty and the National Grid.