If you’ve come across the INtegrated TRAining internship programme, which is a way of academically assessing students in a workplace relating to their chosen field, you will often hear students debating over a bad job (that pays) or a good job (which doesn’t, and which you are unlikely to get a permanent place in after working for them).
Of course, it isn’t the fault of INTRA that so often these positions pay little to nothing – it’s legal not only in Ireland but in many countries. Interns most often don’t even make minimum wage, or sometimes anything at all. It’s a running joke known world-over, I guess it’s come about as a sort of way of laughing through the pain as is common with so many issues.
My position is that it shouldn’t be legal to pay anyone below living wage (which is still plenty high above Ireland’s minimum wage), let alone below minimum wage. Those who live in Dublin (where almost every placement is) or who are more financially secure, are higher up on the ladder from the get-go as they can secure the higher quality placements and maintain them for the long term.
INTRA takes place outside of term time, and so students who may have been eligible for student assistance funds and grants, such as the HEAR or SUSI schemes, are no longer able to avail of these. For many, receiving these grants is the choice between attending higher education or not.
Disregarding payment, INTRA is unrepresentative of the real working world, and not only because you are being academically assessed and paid peanuts.
Students are not given the choice of choosing from their job offers. The argument can, of course, be made, that why on earth would you apply for a job you did not want? INTRA is high-pressure for students, and as previously mentioned we are being forced to choose between a job you really want but which doesn’t pay, or a job you don’t want but would pay you enough to be able to eat dinner or afford rent.
A student cannot revoke an application even in the seconds after they have clicked to apply, and cannot rearrange interviews or contact the employers directly. If they want to cancel or rearrange an interview, and their reasoning behind this isn’t good enough, they are “locked out” of the INTRA system for two weeks and are not given any further job offers for that time. Being “locked out” is the highest punishment, and is a way of treating students almost as if they are children on a time out.
Students in their final year who are made to avail of INTRA placements as part of their assessment are practically fully qualified individuals. They should be treated as such. They should be able to choose a job which best suits them, from a range of offers, as this could very well be a step in determining their career path as well as their final grade in their degree.
I don’t fully blame INTRA for this array of issues. However, they do put students last on their list of priorities. But only because they are at the mercy of employers, who are legally able to do whatever they want.
Image: Sonja Tutty