Dear Readers,

In case you count yourself to the majority of our followers – students – you have probably been there: in order to enhance your future career chances you were going through the struggle of applying for that one high-end internship to boost your CV. No matter if you spent time in your precious summer break or if you actually got time of from your study program to work as an intern, when finding an internship there is always one problem: your financial situation. After all, you are a student! Most companies or organizations you would like to intern at are unfortunately not around the corner, but it is also not status quo to just pay your travel expenses, extra living costs and other expenses from your small student budget while you work at a full-time job – unpaid? This common article explores how our ambassadors feel about unpaid internships in their country, at a EU level or just in general. While some contributions just tell you why you often get treated unfairly, you might find also some inspiring thoughts to take action against the unfair treatment of interns and you will even encounter a letter which could have been written by you? Enjoy the read!

Rebecca Fobbe – International Officer of the EST

EST France – Moira Tourneur

Internships can be an important stepping stone in young people’s careers. They enable undergraduates as well as graduates to get real working experiences before entering working life – which can subsequently be an advantage to get a first job after studies are completed. Besides, they are a great way for students to make sure that they have chosen the studies that best suit them. However, internships should not be not remunerated. As a matter of fact, interns do work! Not paying them means not recognizing their work – which is unfair. Furthermore, unpaid internships create discrimination. As EU ombudswoman Emily O’Reilly stated on February 17th regarding internships in EU foreign delegations, “traineeships […] should be available to as broad a range of people as possible”. Indeed, internships abroad mean paying an accommodation as well as travel arrangements, medical insurance and visa applications – costs that every student cannot necessarily afford, all the more so as much internship abroad are unpaid. Those internships can thus be inaccessible to students from unprivileged backgrounds and “risk becoming a privilege for the few”. The EU should therefore aim to implement a minimum remuneration so that trainees working not only for EU institutions outside the EU but also in companies within the EU could be paid from the start of their traineeship. Internships are a great opportunity for students, provided that students’ work is fairly paid.

EST Italy – Matteo Scalabrino

Internthip: Is it worth it?

Internships have been used as a fundamental step for different students to either enter a new field or change a profession. The noticeable rise in unpaid internships has increased positive and negative arguments based on their impact on the interns. An internship is based on a simple concept. The apprenticeship is offered by a skilled laborer to an unpractised intern under the condition the apprentice would work for the employer for a specific period.

But, among these informations, the real question is: are all these internships worth it?

Through a recent survey conducted by the American National Association of Colleges and Employers, the connection between employment and internship has been stressed and the results were incredibile. Assumption percentage for students who completed an unpaid internship were almost the same for those who had not attended any internship (36%). These findings were completely different for students who have completed a paid internship which was likely to guarantee an higher possibility to find a job (67%).

Connected to these rates, the main problem is that companies are not using internships in the way they are intended. Internships are supposed to be recruiting ambitious young students to provide them with new talents. Instead, employers are taking advantage of interns without any intent of hiring them on a full-time basis later. This results in displacing existing full-time jobs and increasing unemployment.

The  worth of the internship depends on whether it will lead to a full-time job as well as each intern’s perception and criteria when evaluating an internship such as the short- and long term costs and benefits. In the short term, interns could not receive the wage. In the long term, the internship experience and all the connected baggage of experiences learned may pave the way to a full-time job and a brilliant carrier.

EST Switzerland – Amanda Wegener

Students are getting internships trying to gain work experience while studying, now more than ever. Internships are, after all, a quick and easy way to be remunerated in a short span of time, but mostly it allows interns a valuable insight into the tantalizing world of work.

Whether students apply formally through an intricate application process or might be acquainted with people who know the “right” people, both in the private and public sector internships are fairly accessible. It seems as though this area is anything but stagnant, so much as perennially running; that is if the student’s profile conforms to the specific branch. In that regard, the system is quite sclerotic. Students must not only have an interest that bleeds into motivation but must possess a background of school subjects, extracurricular activities and previous internships that align with the requirements of the aforesaid internship.

Hence, it is worth exploring why employers are so strict in their demands to get the position when in reality some leniency might actually broaden their spectrum of qualified options since an intern’s primary purpose is to learn through the experience.

More importance should be bestowed upon the efficacy of the intern in accomplishing the duties he/she is assigned to than on his/her qualifications that may likely predict his/her capability. Fundamentally, internships are a student’s first-hand account to learn how to function as an adult in a working society, so why tighten the noose when it comes to a selection of young, versatile students eager to be trained?

EST UK – Rensa Gaunt

As a lower-income student at a prestigious university, I see the difference that financial security makes. I am very lucky to have a system of grants and bursaries to support me, but even these would not allow me to work for free as some institutions expect, and students less well supported are completely priced out of experience that could allow them to break into the career of their dreams. I have spent 10 months volunteering through the European Voluntary Service, which provides experience while covering living costs, enabling young people of any background to make a difference, and recognising that not everyone can afford to pay to volunteer. Providing at least this level of assistant to interns would show that their work is valued and that they are not merely being exploited for the benefit of those above them.

It’s time for organisations to recognise that they benefit from young people’s contributions, and that not only the lucky few should be given these opportunities, which are especially important in fields where specific work experience is essential for finding a job in that area. The financially privileged already have a massive advantage when it comes to work and studies, and I believe that organisations and companies that benefit from the work of young people have the obligation to make sure that the process is as fair as it can be.

EST Germany – Nora Szabo-Jilek

Dear employers,

Interns are your future!

By offering unpaid internships you are already targeting an exclusive group of students who can afford to go months without an income. This small group relies on their families for support or work part-time jobs during the semester to save up. Employees who have been in the workforce for a while might have savings, but students and recent graduates do not. On the contrary, many take out loans to afford higher education. Not only do you miss out on talent but you also fail to create an inclusive community. Applicants will focus on finding a position that can pay of that debt and not necessarily on how they will be able to contribute their skills to your company or organization.

Furthermore, a recent graduate or anyone not working towards a degree is a person with qualifications beyond secondary school. They have already invested a lot of money, energy and time to get to this milestone and are ready to enter the workforce. Under no circumstances should it be acceptable to hire a graduate as an unpaid intern.

But what can you do if there is absolutely no way around an unpaid position?

  1. Make the internship count: Pay your interns in experiences. Don’t just have them make coffee or stand by the printer all day. Clerical tasks will undoubtedly be a part of every internship but don’t make it your interns’ primary role. Take them with you, let them sit in on meetings, be a mentor. Let them explore your company/organization and listen to what ideas they might have. Ask them how you might be able to help achieve their goals.
  2. Be open to future employment: Interns apply for a reason and you select them for a reason. Treat the internship as a possible boot camp or interview for a future job. Spending a few weeks or months with an intern will allow you to get to know each other. The intern will know what is expected of her/him and you will be able to judge their suitability better than you can from CVs, cover letters and endless rounds of interviews. If it is a match for you both, why not offer your intern an actual job?
  3. Be creative: There are several ways you can still offer interns some sort of financial assistance even if it is not a salary. Little things like free lunch at your cafeteria can already make a big difference for anyone on a student budget. You could also try looking for external sponsors or partners when it comes to housing for example. Ask around and don’t rely on conventional methods.

So, dear employers, interns are your future! Cherish them, nurture them, pay them!

EST Poland – Aurelien Pommier

The period between the end of studies and the actual career, the early career, is usually difficult. An « internship » is usually required to gather experiences but it is always difficult to obtain and internship conditions are not always the best.

In spite of the fact that internship is often synonymous with experience, it can be regarded as unfair. At the beginning of an internship period an intern usually as to learn new tasks and methods, but following an adaptation period, the intern basically does the same job as an employee, only without the benefits.

Thus, the situation of an intern can be precarious. First of all, regarding the question of salary, many internships remain unpaid or underpaid. It is an obstacle for a lot of potential interns who cannot afford to live on their own, especially if the internship leads to more expenses (travel, accommodation, etc).

For me, it is unfair to pay less or nothing to a person who does a genuine job in an enterprise or organisation, whatever status he or she has. From this finding, a distinction can be done: job-shadowing and genuine contribution. As long as an internship results in a genuine contribution in the welcoming entity, it has to be paid and fairly paid.

However and fortunately, the situation is not that bad for all internships: it often depends on conditions and regulations in different European countries. In this regard, the European Union could help by creating common rules for internships, trying to establish a fairer situation on the model of the initiative of the European Youth Forum for a European Quality Charter for Internships and Apprenticeships. But we must remember balance; indeed, this framework should remain a minimum level guarantee because a higher one could lead to the disappearance of most internship.

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