The expense of experience for students

Cathal Mc Cahey

Choose a job you love, and you will never have to work a day in your life”, a quote from Confucius most of us are familiar with. Although most of us will have to work for free and pretend to love it to try leave a lasting impression on potential future employers.

Most third level courses require you to partake in some form of placement, no doubt an incredible opportunity to apply what you have been learning over the course of your degree. Two months of placement is required for me to complete my degree and as that approaches, the prospect of working for free also looms.

While a lot of employers offer some form of remuneration many simply don’t have the budget. This is understandable to an extent but it’s simply not right to let students work for free while expecting a high level of work. On the other hand, it’s also fully understandable as to why some employers don’t offer their full wage, at the end of the day you are not yet fully qualified.

But that’s a fact some employers seem to hang on to and push. This ‘you are not fully qualified yet and you need us’ mentality. It leaves us students in a weird sort of limbo, we can’t quite expect full pay for our placement because we do need them and it’s because we need them that we can’t demand payment either. That being said it would be nice to be able to pay for expenses as, you know, life continues and life is expensive.

For those who live close to where their placement will be have it easier. Between living at home and the help of parents you probably will be able to get by the duration of your placement, you’ll be broken but you will get by. It’s the students who have to rent and live independently that will really feel the effects of working for nothing.

For most in that situation, working on top of placement will be the only option. It’s not uncommon to find a student who is between the two, working full hours during the week and keeping up a weekend job on top of that. Some might almost describe this as a sort of ‘rite of passage’, earning your stripes by jumping in the trenches and fighting your way out. But this isn’t a war and we need to buy some food.

At the end of the day it’s not only a matter of being able to get by but a matter of principle. As students we’re constantly told that we are the future of whatever industry we’re looking to get in to and that our work should be valued, but how can we believe that when we’re also told that we may have to work for free? If we truly are the future of our chosen career paths, then getting paid enough to even cover expenses should be a given.

Cathal Mc Cahey

Image by Shauna Bowers