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Column: It’s a shame JobBridge is badly curated – there are some quality offers in there

Employer and online business MD Aaron McKenna says that while JobBridge is scattered with ads for unskilled, unpaid labour, internships – even unpaid – should not be written off as without merit.

Aaron McKenna

THE HUMBLE INTERNSHIP has become akin to modern day slavery, ever since the government launched its JobBridge programme offering individuals on the dole €50 a week extra to take up an internship through the scheme.

Seen as vital experience and training of value to some; free labour to be used and abused to others, the programme – and the very idea of internships – has come under heavy criticism since it was launched.

The programme has shot itself in both feet by being about as well managed as we have come to expect many special initiatives from dearly (nearly) departed FÁS to be. Some of the positions on offer are laughable and one has to wonder what sort of a brain is curating the advertisements, or if it is indeed tacit government policy to shuffle the unemployed into anything at all that looks progressive.

A casual observer to the very first page of internship advertisements at the time of writing will find gems such as “Customer Support Person”, two positions supervised by no less than the Chief Executive of the (presumably small) organisation. If that’s not to your liking, perhaps you’d care to up skill to the position of “Office Administrator”? Surely if none of these take your fancy then the ad for “Waiting Staff” might be more to your taste?

JobBridge has very clearly allowed itself to be infiltrated by unprincipled employers who can’t believe their luck at this free workforce delivered by government no questions asked. Before rushing off to tweet the most egregious examples to Slaves.ie however one might stop and consider the other opportunities on that first page.

There are internships in there that should be sorted from the chaff

A “Marketing Assistant” position aimed at a graduate with a relevant qualification – but no experience – and providing an opportunity “to gain practical experience in the development and implementation of a marketing campaign for a new product.” Similar ads feature, some specialising
in online and social media marketing, such as gaining experience in Search Engine and Email marketing. A “SAP Maintenance Planner” who will get to notch proficiency in one of the most widely-used Enterprise Resource Planning systems in the world onto their CV, no prior experience required.

These are proper internships with quality outcomes for the people who take them up. They are the kind of advertisements that should be sorted from the chaff, the unskilled labour very poorly dressed up as a career-enhancing nine months of learning on the job.

Some detractors of the program are saying however that internships full stop are exploitative and should be banned. A person should be paid a full wage and/or offered a guaranteed job at the end of the process for internships to be considered kosher.

This is not realistic. Unpaid internships are a valid and important part of the employment and education ecosystem, never more so than in this economy. It takes companies months to break in graduates in particular, knocking the edges off them and turning written coursework into real world application and refocusing from college work to the rhythm of industry.

In a job market where supply far outstrips demand an inexperienced graduate will not make it past the first round of scrutiny compared to better experienced peers, followed by a lock in to long-term unemployment as their skills become less desirable beside more recent graduates. In short, those who do not work to keep their skills fresh, updated or in use will fall to the bottom of the pile, the least desirable candidates among a stack of attractive CVs for employers to choose from.

Our stagnant employment numbers means that those who graduate or become unemployed today face competition from hardened veterans of the downturn on the one side, and the folks behind them in the queue to graduate and eat their lunch tomorrow. As of June next year the line for jobs will begin to hold people who entered third level at the same time as the banking guarantee.

A quality internship is one in which both parties stand to gain

Quality internships have a role to play in giving people in that long queue the edge they will need to make it past CV screeners. A quality internship is one in which both parties stand to gain, the intern experience and the company some free labour (dirty as that sounds to some.) A company hiring interns should be prepared to invest time into educating, giving them face time with people doing the work they someday want to have.

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Companies should always offer a contribution towards covering the costs a person incurs in showing up to work. If a company can’t afford a small sum to keep interns in bus tickets and sandwiches, it probably can’t afford the time to be teaching new skills and shouldn’t hire any.

For a company there is a mix of altruism, self interest and a wider world view at play when offering quality internships. Altruism is managers remembering the old fogeys who gave of their time to give us a shot. Self interest is the tangible benefit of the work got from an intern. And a wider world view is the intangible benefit of crafting a workforce that’s capable of meeting the challenges of an entire industry.

In e-commerce, for example, there is a dearth of local talent. The more people companies in that space help to train, the healthier the industry will be as it continues to grow.

An internship shouldn’t tacitly be an extended interview, but interns do naturally jump above other candidates when roles open up. It’s a side bet on an internship that may or may not pay out, and many companies that have interns look to them when hiring.

Let’s not throw out the baby with the government-run bathwater. There is real value for jobseekers in internships, as there is in further education, and we ought to continue to promote and welcome high quality opportunities for individuals to gain the edge they need to get a paying job.

Aaron McKenna is Managing Director of the online electronics store Komplett.ie. Komplett has employed interns in the company in the past but is not advertising for or using any interns from the JobBridge scheme.

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