Following the recent debate on the JISC Archive-NRA list-serv about internships and volunteering (https://www.jiscmail.ac.uk/cgi-bin/webadmin?A0=ARCHIVES-NRA), the Archives and records Association (ARA) published an interim statement (http://www.archives.org.uk/latest-news/ara-publishes-interim-statement-on-interns.html). The ARA will issue a final statement on internship following the results of the research commissioned by the ARA Public Services Quality Group Volunteering Sub-Committee in the hope that it may provide additional information about the extent of unpaid work experience in the sector.
The Section for New Professionals (SfNP) raised concerns on behalf of new professionals with the ARA Board prior to the publication of the interim statement, summarised below. We would love to hear from the wider community, particular new professionals, who would like to share their views on our comments and the interim statement published by the ARA.
We are most concerned about the lack of clarity on volunteer and unpaid work experience on the ARA website. We realize that pre-course experience is an essential pre-requisite to acceptance on accredited training courses and that most qualified and established professionals have done voluntary work themselves in the past – a scenario which is not likely to change in the near future. Due to current financial circumstances, we are also aware that voluntary work is welcomed by both employers who are unable to offer a paid training position and those seeking work experience but unable to secure a paid position. However, there is a clear need for a set of guidelines from the ARA on best practice for volunteers’ supervisors working with those aiming to progress into the profession and for volunteers themselves.
1 – Although information and details on placement opportunities and FARMER guidelines on work experience can be found on the ARA website (http://www.archives.org.uk/careers/placement-opportunities.html), the resource is a generalised (rather than targeted) guide to work experience. It does not distinguish between those whose aim is to work towards entry to an accredited course and/or career development and those who are interested in work placements for other reasons. Although we realise that the aim here is to provide general guidance, it does not acknowledge that voluntary work is undertaken by newcomers for the sole purpose of developing a career in the profession. Also, those volunteers and newcomers may be – or could become – members of the ARA and it would be beneficial all round if the above situation was recognised.
2 – In a similar vein, we realise that the ARA policy on volunteering is aimed at all volunteers, but it should address the issues of volunteering as a method of gaining experience and enhancing employability outlined above.
3 – The ARA Framework of Competencies (FC) lays out five options for ‘possible competency levels’, one of which includes ‘newcomers’ (http://www.archives.org.uk/careers/cpd.html). This is a real opportunity to introduce potential and new professionals to the FC, and is the first instance of volunteering being acknowledged as an integral aspect of professional development. With that in mind, it may be appropriate to negotiate with universities to match FARMER guidelines to the FC, since the FARMER guidelines (currently being updated) could encourage wider participation in and maximise the impact of the FC.
4 – On the question of internships versus volunteering, there has been a recent debate on whether internships can be unpaid positions in a legal sense. Hazel Blears has recently put an end to unpaid internships in Whitehall, and has presented her bill to ban the advertising of unpaid internships, as a contravention of national minimum wage legislation. Perhaps now is the time for the Association to research and inform itself on the details of this bill, and prepare a statement and/or guidance for members.
5 – There is little evidence or documentation around the extent of unpaid work experience positions in the sector, although it is often discussed inside the profession. We wonder whether levels of volunteer/trainee/internship activity in the field has increased in recent years, and whether monitoring this frequently could provide ARA with valuable information. We hope that the research on volunteering commissioned by the ARA Public Services Quality Group Volunteering Sub-Committee will provide us with further information.
In conclusion, we ask that the ARA address the following issues:
1 – That there is a lack of clarity and relevance around definitions for traineeships, volunteering, internships and work experience to provide professional and institutional members with best-practice guidelines that would lead to consistency in the sector.
2 – That guidelines for what is acceptable, advisable and legal in terms of non-paid work experience should be provided. For example, it would be beneficial to provide clarification on what is seen as full or part-time experience, its duration, levels of professional support for and levels of responsibility expected of volunteers, and the kind of tasks expected to be conducted by a newcomer. We are particularly worried that some advertisements for unpaid positions do not allow room for negotiation between the two parties with regard to terms of the internship, which would allow flexible working hours in order for the prospective intern combine their unpaid experience with paid jobs elsewhere.
3 – That there is a lack of research into the barriers that are currently being faced by those considering or entering the profession, and into how the demand for pre-course experience affects career aspirations of potential professionals. At this point we wonder whether the Diversity Group would be able to contribute to the debate in the need to equip graduates from all social and financial backgrounds with the resources to survive in a competitive job market.
If you were a paid or unpaid intern, student on an accredited course, or are newly qualified, we would like to hear your views at firstname.lastname@example.org.
ARA Section for New Professionals committee