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Career transitions to paid employment: At what point does training placement provision move between up-skilling to exploitation?

O'Neil, Jennifer; Ivancheva, Mariya


Mariya Ivancheva


Precarious work that becomes a ‘stepping stone’ to decent work (McGuiness and Wooden 2009, Nunley et al 2017; Munoz-Comet and Steinmetz 2020) is the bargain struck for many learners leaving education and accessing employment, typically via placements and internships. However, the growing prevalence of unpaid, free labour as a stepping-stone to precarious, insecure work is becoming the new level of analysis in career transitions under a political backdrop of never-ending austerity. The UK mental health sector is ripe for study, due to the increase in demand for services, post Covid-19 pandemic, but utter lack of public funding available for up-skilling and accreditation.
In this exploratory study, we stratified 10 trainee mental health counsellor interviews out of a larger data set with experienced practitioners, who had completed a variety of unpaid placements as part of their training program and accreditation process. We asked the following research questions: (1) How do trainee therapists negotiate the expected “free” work of placements while paying for therapy, supervision and ancillary costs and balancing volunteering with paid work and caring commitments? (2) To what extent might the costs of ‘free work’ enable or hinder eventual career entry in to secure paid labour?
Our findings reveal a system of mental health care built on free labour, where services substitute paid labour with free labour; where trainees are providing extra services via discretionary and coerced effort; where organisations off-set the costs of up-skilling and the direct costs of work and resources onto the trainee. The placements do offer up-skilling opportunities, but the associated costs and labour substitution act as barriers to entry into paid and secure work. Examples include NHS services, where only (underpaid) doctors are paid at all and everyone else works for free; essential charitable services where trainees ‘borrow’ time from their paid work to complete voluntary but essential tasks and eventual paid work which is characterised by part time hours, opaque contracts and work intensification. The trend emerging is one where the career ladder has been lengthened, to include a new rung at the bottom which goes beyond altruistic volunteering and is now exploitation of the educated, up-skilled, hopeful.

Presentation Conference Type Conference Paper (unpublished)
Conference Name 42nd International Labour Process Conference 2024 (ILPC 2024)
Start Date Apr 3, 2024
End Date Apr 5, 2024
Deposit Date Apr 15, 2024
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