It wasn't so long ago that firms were willing to pay young graduates to work for them. Sure they had to turn up every day and do something useful, but in general they were treated like employees. Some firms were even so munificient that they provided training courses in such esoteric subjects as management, or how to do your job.
Of course these graduates didn't all come to the workplace as raw recruits. Many students had worked in commercial companies during their student vacations. The author of this blog spent his summers before graduation working in Paris in the European headquarters of a very large US corporation (twice) and several months working in a bank in Switzerland, and he was paid handsomely for his efforts, thereby funding a relatively lavish lifestyle at his Oxbridge college.
Things are somewhat different now. Many firms require their recruits to have experience in their industy and the route to that is not the paid summer job, but the internship. What's the difference? In most cases the salary, or at least most of it. That has been the price of obtaining a start in a big firm.
But things have become a lot worse in the recession. With paying jobs hard to come by, a lot of college graduates would gladly accept a nonpaying internship. But the trouble is they are competing with laid-off employees with far more experience.
In America, an increasing number of graduates, or their parents, are paying thousands of dollars to services that help them land internships. These are paid internships, but not paid by the company, but by the student or parents, to the tune of several thousand dollars.
In many cases US companies offer internships by auction with the auction proceeds going to a charity nominated by the company. In many cases, companies say that the internship is reated simply to raise money for the charity.
Hey kids, a word of advice from your uncle Alex. If somebody offers to let you pay them to work for them for free, just walk away. If you are smart enough to do that you are smart enough to run your own business, and you don't need to exploit young people to make money.