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Column: I've entered the Church of Burton ... Yes, I am now a JobBridge intern

After two years of being unemployed, I’ve just started a JobBridge internship. The experience has been a mixed one so far.

Catherine W

IT’S BEEN OVER two years since I left full-time employment. Two years of days when I felt like I could take on the world and was bound to have my first novella published within the week. And days when I thought if I sent one more pitch email and was rebuffed I would give up forever and return to my past as a classroom cleaner. (Incidentally one of the most enjoyable jobs I’ve had)

My main problem is I’m a writer of words and they just don’t carry much currency. Unless you’re already established as some journalistic demi-god that hasn’t been turned into that two-face fella out of Batman by bribery and corruption in the modern press – if that is the case you could sell your scribbled shopping list for £250,000 a year.

I’m also a bit fussy about the work I do – not fussy fussy but, you know, within the realms of human decency fussy, all in return for minimum wage and Christmas Day off. In my dreams, of course, no one would work from 1 December to 10 January, at least, but alas, Christmas is all about Coca-Cola now and no one’s interested in my ebullient goodwill.

JobBridge or quit

Since I became unemployed I have spent most of my time bashing at a keyboard and getting annoyed with the state of the world. Particularly Joan Burton and stupid cat internet-thingies that turn up in my Twitter feed of a morning like they are meant to provide me succour. And for the record, Joan, I’m sorry; I know it’s not all your fault. You’re just an easy target.

But now it is time I admit, I have entered the Church of Burton and am taking part in a JobBridge scheme. I wasn’t left with much choice when the Social came calling, it was JobBridge or quit, despite my ongoing effort to find full-time employment. So here I am. Learning how to file, make tea and becoming adept at changing browser tabs for the next eight months. Or so I thought.

Actually it’s not too bad. So far my experience has been less like the Republic of Telly JobBridge sketch and more like actually getting to use my brain again although for 39 hours a week and a paltry extra €50. The position I applied for was general in its description, to say the least, but its promised admin and secretarial duties and I like nothing more than the tap-tap of a keyboard so it was good enough for me.

It’s actually ended up being a lot more than that, though; I’m part of a small team, dealing with the public on a daily basis. After a few days of shadowing, I was pretty much let loose to have a go myself and as of yet I haven’t burnt the place to the ground.

It’s made a change to talk to other people rather than staring desolately at my Twitter feed and empty email inbox. Particularly as the ratio of interns to employees is in our favour … perhaps I can convince my fellow interns to stage a revolt, if they weren’t all too scared to say anything. I’m also bound to soon transform into the fit and glowing worker, walking to walk in mismatched trainers and suit.

But while my mental and physical health may be bolstered by my new job, there is a cloud above me.

Could my contract be revoked?

My contract could always be revoked, or at least I’m terrified it could be. Making me and other interns in a similar position prostitute themselves to some extent, skipping lunch to take calls, covering for the rest of the office when they decide on an impromptu pub trip and crawling into work with a full-blown fever just in case we’re told to clear our desks otherwise.

This is exactly how Minister Burton and her cronies want us, though. Quiet, controlled and not making a fuss. What government doesn’t want to keep the masses down through extortion, bullying and manipulation, particularly the young that are their biggest threat in the polling stations? Sorry, all got a bit Orwell there. But how can it be fair to exploit a workforce that is prostrate and dependent on state benefits? Especially in my own circumstance, where a large proportion of the workforce is made up of other interns – and those who are recruited only get offered work after a period of working for free.

The success rate of the JobBridge scheme has been well-documented and the figures don’t make for great reading. However, whether this is down to the quality of employer or a reluctance of the welfare system to provide long-term solutions to the employment crisis that has seen no improvement, is harder to decipher.

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I’m optimistic … but cautious

As my CV gets longer I’m not convinced my potential career prospects do, so perhaps I am just wasting time. That all being said, I am optimistic about my future in interning, even if it’s only for a few more months. By the time I reach the other side of the JobBridge, I should – if Joan Burton is to be believed – have more employability skills to add to the whole package that is ‘me’: a university graduate born a few years too late, who just happened to leave education as the tiger rolled over and died.

Any skills I have gained, though, will be a reflection of what I’ve done for myself and should in no way bolster Burton’s statistics. I’m determined not to be the intern that just files and fails to develop. I already have employable skills and there are gaps in my company I can see from the outside that I’m hoping to fill – once I get up the courage to present them to head office.

As far as I know at the moment I will definitely have Christmas off (hurrah!), whether I have a job to go back to afterwards … well, I hope so. And maybe I can then finally sign off on my social welfare.

The author wishes to remain anonymous for employment reasons.

Read: OECD says JobBridge is leaving most disadvantaged behind

Column: Unpaid internships, low wages, zero hour contracts – this is life without job security

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Catherine W

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