Do internships = exploitation?

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Inscrit le 8 février 2013
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In the last couple of months I have had several conversations with a number of recent graduates about their planned career paths, and one thing has struck me from these discussions – the sheer frustration with internships.

I consider myself one of the lucky ones – and I use the word ‘lucky’ without diminishing the hard work, long nights, and extra hours that helped me transform that luck into where I am today. During my first (and only) internship I had an amazing mentor who pushed me and gave me the opportunities to show that I was capable and had the right qualities for the organisation.

So when job opening came up in the same organisation at the end of my internship period, I applied and got it, even though I know some people remained sceptical about my age – which in their minds was equivalent with limited experience. As many of you will know personally, not only are potential employers big on actual relevant work experience, they are also big on ‘continuous employment’. So even though I had worked incredibly hard as an events manager seasonally throughout all of my university studies, this did not count as ‘continuous’ employment to many people.

And of course, neither are internships. And here I see the vicious cycle beginning. Graduates look for work. Employers want employees with experience. Employers offer internships, often unpaid, usually with no promise of permanent employment. Graduates take the internships hoping to build up their CVs with the experience that everyone demands them to have. At the same time they either work extra jobs, rely on their loans, or turn to their parents for financial support. (This is one of the most frustrating things about internships - is that they favour those young people who have the means to work for free, essentially).

And when the internships are over and these young people go to apply for jobs, employers look at their CVs and shake their heads at the “limited” work experience that these young people have.

What I have described above is an oversimplification and I know that there are so many factors at play when a young person is looking for a job, but I have seen many qualified and driven young people hitting their heads against brick walls in frustration.

I think that governments and the private sector need to take a very serious look at the concept of internships – and the broader approach to youth employment. •Internships should be paid – even if the amounts are small. •Internships should have well-designed assignments and tasks – that give young people quality work experience that helps them find permanent employment. •More industries should look at a model similar to law firms or finance companies whereby young graduates, fresh out of university, work for a year or two on a lower pay grade until they acquire the level of experience and proficiency which contributes seriously to productivity in the workplace.

And with growing youth populations is many countries and disproportionately high youth unemployment, this isn’t a choice, it is an imperative.

Photo: Flickr photo Creative Commons licensed via adpowers

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