There are 4.5 million internships in Europe each year. Of those, EU Commission figures suggest that 59% work unpaid, and 40% work without a contract. Cynics might suggest that some companies have been exploiting high rates of youth unemployment to provide themselves with a conveyor belt of cheap labour, recruiting a steady stream of interns for positions that should more properly be done by a salaried worker. So, are internships really worth the experience?

What do our readers think? We had a comment from Thernie, who says: “Internships are invaluable for young, inexperienced people, They let them get their foot though a door that would otherwise remain firmly shut.” Is she right? Are internships worth the experience?

To get a response, we spoke to Alexandre Beddock, Communication Manager for the InternsGoPro, which is a social enterprise campaigning against exploitative internships. What would he say?

Yes, for sure. We have so many people that tell us they have had good internships. Because, obviously, there’s also been a trend, given the high youth unemployment rates, to use interns as a kind of ‘labour replacement’, or to provide substandard working conditions. However, on the other hand, you have a lot of companies that do indeed provide their internships with training, give them responsibilities, and treat their interns as people who are willing to learn. So, we are really supportive of those employers giving great conditions for their young professionals.

Next up, we had a comment sent in from Dory, who sent us a comment saying: “Too many companies rely on an indecent amount of interns; I’ve met interns who say they are 4 interns for 3 every employees, and some people also do 3 or more internships.” Is she right? Are businesses too reliant on internships?

To get a response, we spoke to Alessandro Fusacchia, a Member of the Italian Chamber of Deputies for the centrist, pro-European “Italian Radicals” and one of Friends of Europe’s European Young Leaders . What would he say?

Finally, how would Alexandre Beddock, Communication Manager at InternsGoPro, respond?

Yes, and I think that’s a general trend that we have seen since the crisis, alongside the rise of youth unemployment in Europe. Getting your first job becomes really difficult, so people are sometimes willing to take, if not a job, then an internship, then they take another one, and then they have fallen into what we call the ‘internship trap’. This is when you do 4, 5, 6 internships, sometimes those are unpaid, and you cannot access what we would think of as a ‘real job’.

So, this is indeed problematic, and we see a lot of companies abusing the legislation for internships, because there is a lack of legislation for that at the different national levels, but also at the European level. And that’s why our organisation – InternsGoPro – is working a lot on employer responsibility in order to showcase good practice and encourage them, using that leverage to promote fairer internships. And also, right now, we are co-creating European norms for internships together with the European Committee for Standardization (CEN), so we are creating a European norm for employers related to internships, to encourage good practices and to avoid those kind of abuses that Dory is mentioning.

Are internships worth the experience? How can we stop people falling into the “internship trap”? Should there be tougher legislation regulating internships in Europe? Let us know your thoughts and comments in the form below and we’ll take them to policymakers and experts for their reactions!

IMAGE CREDITS: (c) BigStock – fizkes
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3 comments Post a commentcomment

What do YOU think?

  1. avatar
    Paula

    Internships are here to help students develop their skills, not to provide a cheap and skilled workforce, and it is perceived differently in Belgium. I have learned that the entry-level job market in Brussels is harsh and accessible only to those who can be provided for by their parents, families or their funds from previous jobs. Starting a career should not rely on parents’ capability to provide for a young graduate, and the situation where candidates from less privileged families and countries are excluded from entering the job market is outrageous.

    Under Belgian law, internships have to be unpaid. Interns can be offered some forms of reimbursement, meal tickets or transport costs refund – not necessarily. They do not have the right to vacation, sick leave, or benefits. No real prospect or even a promise of employment after finishing their internship.

    In the heart of European democracy, where all international organizations fighting for human/citizens/workers rights reside, how is such a thing allowed, common and agreed upon? How is it possible that all internships at the United Nations are excluding those who cannot go half a year without an actual income? The infamous case of a UN intern who slept in a tent on the shores of Lake Geneva went viral in 2015, and nothing has changed ever since.

    I think that a basic remuneration to cover accommodation and food expenses is a human right, and offering unpaid internships is deeply classist and excluding.

  2. avatar
    Nayab

    Internships are helpful and easier way with lesser responsibilities ( compared to a full time job) to learn skills and grow into your desired field.
    It gives you an insight into the working environment , managing time and the list goes on.
    As a student the prime focus should not be on the money but the set of skills which you will learn.
    I come from Pakistan and as a biomedical science student there were very few opportunities or almost non existent to learn lab techniques. Whereas , I saw in Europe that my classmates during my Master’s programme were way more skilled or had good approach when it came to do research mainly because they had opportunities to do internships.

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