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Opinion 'I'm not experienced enough to do an unpaid internship'

I need an internship to get job experience but, apparently, I need more experience to get even an unpaid internship. What can you do?

A LOT HAS been written said on the topic of unpaid internships. Are they simply employers exploiting young graduates and cheap labour? Are they necessary for young people to gain practical, real world experience? Should there be legislation protecting against exploitation? Should the State support those who undertake unpaid internships in an effort to find employment?

I had a mixed opinion on unpaid internships. While there has undoubtedly been some exploitation of schemes such as JobBridge, I recognise that young graduates need to gain relevant workplace experience if they hope to find employment. As things are in the economy, a lot of companies, especially SMEs, can’t afford to train new employees in on the job, they need somebody who will hit the ground running. That’s understandable. It’s these companies who can offer and gain most through unpaid internships. They are a chance to train in a potential employee, and equip them with the practical skills needed to complement previous academic or work experience.

Recently, I reluctantly accepted that an unpaid internship might be the only way I can secure paid employment in my field here in Ireland. I would keep on my weekend job that I had throughout college, and work unpaid during the week to improve my employment prospects after Christmas. That was the plan.

I had a handful of interviews. Some went well. Some didn’t. All were unsuccessful. That’s fair enough. There was tough competition, even for the unpaid internships, and many qualified candidates. But my last email informing me of my unsuccessful application really stood out.

Unfortunately, on this occasion I have offered the internship position to someone else – who has already some experience…

This was a real blow to morale. I am not experienced enough to do an unpaid internship.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m qualified to do the job in question: I will soon graduate with a master’s degree in a related field, and many of the responsibilities of the intern in question I had performed in my course-mandated work experience. I have worked unpaid for over a year. First to gain practical experience for my master’s application, then as part of the master’s to put the skills I was learning into practise, and after all that I can’t get an unpaid position.

I need an internship to get job experience, but I need more experience to get even an unpaid internship. What can you do?

I’m not sure what lies in store for me now. I would have preferred to stay in Ireland, closer to family and friends, but it seems, like countless thousands of people over the last few years, that opportunities abroad may be my best prospect of starting a career.

Gavin Nugent is a 23 year old MA student at DIT. He is a graduate of UCD with a degree in Politics and Economics. Follow him on Twitter @gavnugent.

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