Is JobBridge, the national internship scheme, an excuse for cheap labour?
Carnage in the labour market has been so complete during this recession that employers are no longer employers, but host organisations. At least, that’s what the companies who take on temporary workers under the Government’s internship scheme, JobBridge, will be called. But is the National Internship Scheme an excuse for cheap labour? That’s one of the questions posed in a Q&A attached to the Department of Social Protection’s press advisory on the scheme, launched by Joan Burton at Facebook’s Dublin offices this morning.
The Department’s answer to its own question, unsurprisingly, is no. “The National Internship Scheme provides an opportunity for those seeking employment to gain valuable work experience in a host organisation. The scheme aims to keep participants close to the labour market with the goal of improving their employability so that they enhance their prospects of securing employment upon completion.”
Places will be advertised on www.jobbridge.ie from Friday.
Internships, it would seem to me, are a good idea in principle, but in practice the exploiting devil often lies in the exploitative detail – the pay, or lack of it; the length of scheme (too long on little or no pay and clearly the host’s motivations lie solely in cutting its payroll); the quality of the training and experience provided; and the resulting employability potential (whether at the “hosting” company or at another employer who likes the look of an internship on a CV).
In this case, the pay is just €50 a week above social welfare entitlements and the term of the internship is six to nine months. It’s impossible to know what the resulting employability potential will be, partly because it’s impossible to know what the state of the labour market will be in six to nine months’ time, which just serves as a reminder that 5,000 places in JobBridge, however advantageous it may prove for some individuals, isn’t a substitute for a job creation policy.
Indeed, the Department is obviously concerned by the risk that the scheme may actually deter employers from recruiting at full pay. One of the conditions for employers is that the internship can’t be provided to displace an existing employee, nor should the intern carry out work for which a vacancy is being advertised. The organisers say they reserve the right to review the participation of companies where these practices are alleged.
The level of interest from companies in JobBridge is described by Burton as “strong”. Some 320 small businesses have committed to 590 places, while the larger companies to have signed up to the scheme include Dawn Foods, KPMG, Arthur Cox, Mercury Engineering, Hertz, ESB, Bord na Móna, Tesco, PricewaterhouseCoopers, A&L Goodbody and Aer Lingus. And why not? With the Department paying the €50 per week payment, there is no direct cost to playing host.
Burton, whose job it is to be optimistic, says she hopes that some of the employers who “find talented and motivated interns” will then offer them an actual job: “In other words, the period of internship would be a job interview for a longer period of employment.”
The pressure that this thought will put interns under will undoubtedly be immense.