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'I believe that exploitation was rife in JobBridge': Former participants share their experience

New minister for social protection Leo Varadkar announced the end of the programme last Sunday.

29/6/2011 Government National Internship Schemes Joan Burton speaking at the launch of the JobBridge internship programme in 2011 Source: Mark Stedman/RollingNews.ie

LAST SUNDAY, FOUR years, 10 months and 23 days after it was first announced, the JobBridge scheme came to an end.

The much-maligned back-to-work scheme was often hit with accusations that the positions it offered it were not of benefit to those taking them on – and that it was used to mask the actual pace of economic recovery. 

The scrapping of the programme was announced in an interview in last week’s Sunday Independent with new minister for social protection Leo Varadkar.

Reflecting on the scheme’s run, Varadkar said that it had “served its purpose”, and acknowledged that there were concerns that companies had used the scheme as a “cheap alternative to hiring new employees”.

Last year TheJournal.ie spoke to those who’d had experience with JobBridge, and now – with the scheme seemingly dead and buried – we spoke to more participants about how they felt the scheme impacted on Ireland’s jobseekers, both good and bad.

Chris O’Sullivan took on a placement with Arachas Insurance Ireland back in May of 2012.

He explains that he applied for the the position as he was “looking for something new”, having worked in shops for two years after leaving school.

“Insurance is tough to get to grips,” Chris explains.

It takes at least 6 months to train in, and JobBridge gave me a chance to take my time with my training and was risk free for my employer. 

O’Sullivan, 25, has managed to establish himself in the company over the past five years and is still working there today, having been promoted twice.

facebook_1464276990311 Chris pictured with his daughter Ellie

Even though it worked out for him, he acknowledged that not everyone is as lucky.

“We had another girl who came in and started the scheme after I did,” he says, “She was looking for a change of career away from law. During the placement it was clear for her that the work wasn’t really for her. She left at the end and there were no hard feelings about it really.”

Someone who had a more negative experience of the JobBridge programme was Michelle, 26, who took on an internship with a sports and games company back in November 2014, with her role focusing on admin work.

“I had a very frustrating experience with my internship… which cemented my belief that exploration was rife in the JobBridge system,” she says.

As the Christmas season came up, she found the company swamped with sales, inquiries and delivery arrangements that all needed to be dealt with.

I went back to work after my Christmas holidays… where I was informed that I was more or less surplus to requirements.
With the Christmas rush over, and that there was no longer enough work for a second office person, but that they would contact me if business picked up.

Leaving the position, Michelle felt her experience had been of little benefit, and was left feeling “sad and disillusioned”.

File photo: Schools hire Jobsbridge interns instead of using state funding to provide permanent positions. Protesters against the JobBridge scheme outside O2 on Henry Street in 2014 Source: Laura Hutton/RollingNews.ie

“This business was blatantly using the scheme to get an extra pair of hands for their busiest season without having to pay a worker themselves,” she goes on.

They had no intention of mentoring me, equipping me with skills or delivering on anything else that the JobBridge scheme supposedly promises.

Someone else who has had a difficult experience initially with JobBridge was Andy Cleary, 34, who began applying for positions after becoming redundant back in 2011, after previously working as a motor mechanic and with an engineering company.

“When I was applying through JobBridge, I thought companies were taking advantage a lot, there were companies looking for undergraduate degrees, masters degrees and then maybe another two years experience on top of that then,” he says.

Cleary had a frustrating time waiting to hear back about positions he’d applied for, before eventually being called to interview for an internship as a software tester at a company in Sandyford.

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Andy Cleay Andy Cleary

Now, four years later, Cleary is still plying his trade as a software tester.

It worked out very positively for me, but at the time it was frustrating. I would be one of the few had a good outcome out of it.

Someone who feels that the scheme isn’t given the credit it deserves is Robert, who undertook a placement in an advertising company back in 2011 – an industry with a reputation for being difficult to break into.

“It was great,” he says, “It is an industry that takes interns a lot. There are a lot of unpaid internships with students getting experience. Because I was on the dole at the time I was able to get paid something without them having to put money on the table themselves.”

The 33-year-old says that he was given responsibility straight away, and was doing “everything that a full time staff member would have been doing”.

After three months Robert found himself being offered a position with the company – and he remains in the industry to this day.

As the scheme comes to a close, one of its last participants is Michelle, who is currently working in the charity sector with JobBridge.

“They are aware that it is a learning environment for me,” she explains, “and want me to get something out of it, while I’m also filling a skill gap for them for free.”

Seven weeks into the placement she has a pretty positive outlook on the experience, although is aware of the perceptions that exists around the soon-to-be discontinued scheme.

So far it’s been a good relationship - although I’ll admit I feel a level of stigma when I tell people I’m on JobBridge. I get the sense that people pity you, or assume you are being exploited, whereas if I simply said ‘I’m on a paid internship’ (which is what it is) I wouldn’t experience the same stigma.

Notes: Some of the individuals interviewed for this article wished to remain anonymous due to connections they have with the companies they interned with. 

Read: JobBridge is officially to be scrapped, but what will replace it?

Also: ‘If it wasn’t for JobBridge, I’d still be on benefits’

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