Internships: Are they worth it?

Student internships can be a great way to gain experience. They are an opportunity to get thrown in the deep end and to learn your trade in practice and not to mention they look great on CVs.

Some keen students are even lucky enough to work paid internships or year-long paid trainee schemes with major companies.

However, this is not always the case and often students put in long hours for no pay.

In the past few years internships have become increasingly popular with the emergence of JobBridge (the national internship scheme). The website is currently advertising 1,929 internships with the aim of “assisting in the breaking of the cycle where job seekers are unable to get a job without experience”.

However the agency came under scrutiny this month when it was noted that jobs in off-licenses, butchers and SuperValu were being advertised. It raised questions about what makes an internship beneficial and what makes it exploitive free labour.The internships involved working 30 hour weeks for six months with an allowance of €50 for the week.

And now an anti-Job Bridge organisation has surfaced in response to the issue. ScamBridge have “launched our RealJobs program, which involves public investment to create decent jobs”.

They also have engaged in protests. On Valentine’s Day, members gathered outside SuperValu in Deansgrange, Dublin with banners reading “SuperValu, real jobs, no pay”. In January they also held protests outside Advanced Pitstop, a car repair company hiring interns under the scheme.

On a larger scale, certain companies internationally have even seized the opportunity to take advantage of inexperienced employees by charging a hefty fee to source internships abroad.

Companies like CRCC and SOI charge close to €2,000 for students to travel to Asia to complete brief internships, and that doesn’t include food or flights.

There have even been horror stories of interns who have died abroad. Moritz Erhardt died after working for 72 hours straight on internship with the Bank of America. The American student was found dead in his shower. At the time, Polly Courtney, who was a previous intern with Merril Lynch, spoke about the issue. “During my internship, all-nighters were like a rite of passage. They were discussed among us in the Merrill Lynch canteen each night with an outward sense of loathing, but tinged with pride.”

Another similar case occurred last August when Andy Ferguson, an intern with Astral Media in America, fell asleep at the wheel on route home from a long shift. Whether the incident was related to his internship at the time is unclear.

Nonetheless Andy’s family specified that they felt that he had been taken advantage of, and have rallied for intern rights since the incident. Closer to home, students have whistle-blown in a recent Irish Independent article about the hardship throughout their internships with one intern stating “I could only afford one meal a day on my unpaid internship”.

Is it all worth it though?

Forbes magazine recently investigated the benefits of internships and found unpaid internships do not significantly increase a graduate’s chance of employment. They also discovered that the economic climate and the lack of jobs paves the way for exploitation. Interns who completed unpaid internships were only slightly more likely to be employed (37 per cent) than those who hadn’t completed an internship (35 per cent). Those who had completed paid internships had a 63 per cent chance of gaining employment afterwards.

It also concluded that interns in the fashion sector were a high risk when many publications had faced lawsuits from interns who intended to gain payback. “Elite Models is the latest to lose these lawsuits, giving their former interns between $700 and $1,750 in back pay for their services.”

It isn’t all grey matter however when chasing your dreams, there are a plethora of intern rights laid out under Irish legislation. Interns are still protected in regards to excessive working hours, adequate breaks and rest periods, annual leave, public holidays, data protection and they are even entitled to join a union.

Surprisingly, an intern’s entitlement to minimum wage is not under their employer’s discretion, but based on the type of work they do, and someone who has been working for over six months is also entitled to two weeks paid leave.

The Irish Congress of Trade Unions says “many interns don’t know their rights, and may be afraid to stand up for them for fear of losing that crucial good reference. Trade unions are campaigning to make internships better.”

If you are soon to begin work experience or have any queries in relation to an current internship, you can contact the

Katie Coyle

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