Agree With Them or Not, Unpaid Roles Should Still Be Visible to All

Express FM and professional DJ Robbie James speaks about the benefits of having unpaid roles, for community organisations and their volunteers.

‘There’s no such thing as a free lunch’ – a term I became familiar with whilst studying economics.

It suggests that even if you were given a sandwich that you didn’t have to give any money in exchange for, it would still not be free. That’s because there was a cost to making the sandwich, supplying the sandwich and selling the sandwich – resources were used. Following the principle that money isn’t the only form of exchange, another is the development of skills or experience.

Last week, whilst engaging in another session of what I’m now calling a ‘Twitter Binge’, I came across an advert for an internship at a magazine. It didn’t mention whether the role was paid or not, but it did state that the role required 5 years worth of experience in writing, journalism, or editing. Now, given that by definition, an internship is ‘to gain work experience or satisfy requirements for a qualification’, it isn’t irrational to say that the proposal is entirely unjustifiable and implausible.

Whilst regulating how reasonable certain propositions for unpaid internships are, the promotion of rationally & fairly devised roles should not fade away. There are many organisations that mentor and nurture up-and-coming talent into their desired industry, although an increasing portion of them are refusing to promote any unpaid roles.

As someone who got their most fortunate breakthrough by way of finding a notice for a drive time show presenter at Express FM being advertised specifically as unpaid, I would hesitate to remove these roles being advertised. (At this point I would like to point out Express FM is a not-for-profit radio station, thus asking for a full time voluntary role is totally decent). I was lucky I made sure to follow the odd few people that did promote these roles, but many are not aware of who will and won’t make them visible.

So what’s the problem?

The argument against promoting unpaid work often makes out that (in the case of radio for example), stations are making people work for them for free, or using their skills as free labour, seemingly that anyone who wants to has a right to work in exchange for a monetary reward.

This would be completely reasonable if radio stations did ‘make’ people work for them for free. But they’re not. I’m yet to see or hear of a station strapping someone to a chair and insisting that if they want to see the sun come up again they’ll have to complete three hours a week, ten hours a week, one hour a week of unpaid work.

It only seems right that people should be able to make their own choice as to whether they want to take on some unpaid work? If you feel you’re entitled to be paid and should only do paid work, then fine, enjoy! However, I didn’t care one bit if I was paid or not when I saw the Express FM job advertised. Yes, I’d be doing fifteen hours plus preparation a week without earning a penny, but I knew how much I’d learn and develop from it, so I didn’t think twice, and hence built up two or three extra side jobs and scrapped holidays and new clothes for the next two years.

Not rocket science.

There’s a huge discussion to be had as to whether companies that can afford to pay all their human resources, should be legally obliged to do so – but that’s a conversation for another lockdown. For the sake of freedom of decision making in young talent as long as unpaid work is available, its visibility should still be enhanced by those that can.


The original version of this article appeared on Robbie James website, where you can find out more about Robbie and his work as a professional DJ. You can also follow Robbie on Facebook and Twitter.

Image by Gerd Altmann from Pixabay.

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