‘Working for nothing?’ : how do students and graduates utilise unpaid work for career mobilities?

Cunningham, EA 2021, ‘Working for nothing?’ : how do students and graduates utilise unpaid work for career mobilities? , PhD thesis, University of Salford.

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A degree is no longer enough to guarantee graduate career success, so work experience increasingly provides a way to meet requirements of graduate employers. Such experience is often unpaid in the form of internships, work experience and volunteering. In a neoliberal culture that promotes individual agency and responsibility, education and hard work are often regarded as the keys to success. However, many such opportunities are unpaid, low paid or are created by personal and family contacts, all of which can further disadvantage individuals with less social, cultural and economic capitals. New graduates in 2016 accrued an average debt of £44,500 plus interest and faced strong competition in the labour market due to the record numbers of graduates and insufficient appropriate vacancies. Whilst paying for a degree may represent a sound investment in increasing future earnings this is not evenly the case. Through qualitative analysis of semi-structured interviews this research sought to understand the nature of unpaid work and career mobility experiences of students and graduates within a complex and changing context. It found that, for many, unpaid work forms an integral part of their lives. Mobility experiences such as international placements, volunteering and internships were important opportunities to develop career capitals. Pressures of study, work and family commitments posed a barrier and funded opportunities were highly valuable in widening participation. The study found that unpaid career and mobility experiences significantly helped participants to gain tangible benefits and develop soft skills which made them more able to achieve successful outcomes, regardless of background and university attended. However, such opportunities magnified existing inequalities as young people starting with higher career capitals (e.g. parents with money and contacts) were able to access more valuable opportunities earlier. Unique contributions to the field were a typology of different forms of unpaid work experienced by students, a focus on the ‘middle-band’ (not just the highest achievers or most disadvantaged), application of interpretive phenomenology to careers research and a proposed new dimension of the concept of ‘boundaryless careers.’

Item Type: Thesis (PhD)
Contributors: Ackers, L (Supervisor) and Wilding, MA (Supervisor)
Schools: Schools > School of Health and Society > Centre for Applied Research in Health, Welfare and Policy
Depositing User: Eileen Anne Cunningham
Date Deposited: 05 Oct 2021 12:55
Last Modified: 05 Nov 2021 02:30
URI: https://usir.salford.ac.uk/id/eprint/61475

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