Jobs initiative delivering despite hiccups
INTERNSHIPS:SEÁN KEANE does not have anything against low-paid work experience. But the 25-year-old does object to working for nothing for months on end.
That’s what happened when he availed of the Government’s JobBridge internship programme. It allows participants to complete work placements of up to nine months and keep their dole payment, along with an additional €50 a week.
“In principle, it’s a very good idea,” Keane says. “It allows you to get on-the-job experience which you might not otherwise get.”
After completing a master’s in journalism, he went on a six-month placement in a newspaper. But his claim for payment was rejected by social welfare officials three months into the internship, despite being told he was eligible at the outset.
“This made no sense at all,” he says. “It was completely arbitrary. One of my colleagues was in the same boat as me but she had no difficulty getting on the scheme. So, I ended up working six months for free . . . by my calculation, I should have received €6,448 for my internship.”
Keane’s experience is one of several stories where work experience has sometimes seemed more like exploitation. JobBridge – which has provided 9,000 internships since it launched just over a year ago – has led to hundreds of full-time posts for participants.
But it has also been criticised by many as a way of allowing highly profitable companies source cheap labour for often low-skilled jobs.
Tesco Ireland, for example – whose parent company makes billions in profits annually – used the scheme to employ dozens of shelf-stackers in the run-up to Christmas last year. In response to criticism, the company said it was not using it to fill gaps in its workforce, but giving candidates experience of a “fast-moving, modern and innovative retail environment”.
The very existence of the programme says much about the poor state of the economy and the dismal employment prospects facing many. Many jobseekers are caught in a cycle where they can’t get a job because they don’t have experience – yet they can’t get experience because they are newly qualified or are learning new skills.
Philip O’Connell of the Economic and Social Research Institute, an expert on training and employment, says research indicates that work experience placements such as JobBridge – which are close to the labour market – are “the right kind of model”. But he also sounds a warning note. “It’s also wide open to abuse,” he says. “There are many anecdotal cases of people completing these placements doing mundane, often rudimentary jobs and not learning anything. So there is potentially a big exploitation issue.” Much more analysis of the programme is needed before we can definitively measure its impact, he adds.
Minister for Social Protection Joan Burton has accepted there were teething problems with the scheme – such as a failure to properly monitor the quality of jobs being advertised – but insists the model is being adapted and is producing “solid results”.