Being a fresh graduate or unemployed was never and never will be
easy. Especially not today. Therefore, it is not such a newborn problem, yet a serious one. There have been uncountable papers, news and articles on the unbearable level of youth unemployment. For
several years already, the solution to help the young manpower was laid down in
the apprentice and internship programs.
These programs seemed to be the best solutions to tackle the gap between the supply of this rising number of blue-collar fresh minds and the demand on the other side. Internship programs were created to give the platform to enhance one’s employability, to boost all those practical skills that are not received during the theoretical university studies.
Indeed! Most of the fresh graduates (today it means age between 22-27) are facing serious challenges at their first working place. Nevertheless, it is somehow understandable; since the objectives of the universities are not (yet) to give first hand practical experience. Therefore, companies started to offer internship programs to help the new generations to cope with the mounting pressure and competition put on them. They offer shorter or longer programs, with a structured and well-planned mission and vision, they pay the legal stipend, offer the interns tasks with responsibilities, mentor them, aid them to adjust to the organization’s culture, treat them as part of their company and lead them to their first employment contract.
Brussels and the excess demand
Yes. This was the aim! But today it all sounds as a fairytale - at least, in the capital of internships, namely in Brussels.
It seems that Brussels could not cope with the outstanding demand of the youth job seeking activity, whose primary desire is to be located in the heart of Europe. The city has several charms, we all know that. One of them is seeing ourselves as a well-paid and important Eurocrat, wearing the EU starred badge in our neck proudly. However, the way to achieve this dream is not a nicely laid yellow brick valley to all. Most of the young people move to Brussels with hope, but without an actual job and financial resources to stay for long.
Hence, they start the search for the stepping-stone: the first internship. They were all told that they need to gain some experience to boost their CV and it will assure them a good job.
It might have been true a few years ago, but it does not hold up today.
On the contrary, the situation is worrying: International Institutions, NGOs, small and multinational companies all quickly noticed the missing equilibrium point in this supply-demand graph: there are thousands of applications for one internship position. What is more: these people are so keen on to stay in Brussels that they would do anything even for free. Yes, for free, quasi: volunteering for an internship.
Let’s be honest, there is a very narrow margin of people today, who can afford to take on an unpaid internship. Therefore, this system automatically falls to fulfill the above-envisioned fairytale – not even mentioning that under the Belgian law almost all types of the internships must be paid.
Piling up internships – or being intern for a lifetime – an actual “first world problem”
Another problem is that one single internship is simply not enough. These motivated young people take on one and then another and another one and…yes another internship until they can sign their first real employment contract – which by this point many times is not the dreamed EU Institution paper with the proudly worn badge but ‘just give me a proper job’ kind of solution.
However, this latter case is the least problematic side effect, since not everybody can/should work in the European Parliament or Commission.
The Internship question became a real problem. Not because of its existence – the main idea has its positive effects - but rather how it is executed today by many. There are harsh words out there describing the situation: ‘exploitation’, ‘unethical’, ‘out-law’ and so on.
These were not unheard: there have been forums and discussion and initiatives to attempt to regulate the internship programs and give them a legal basis (see: Quality internship), however, as the situation demonstrates, there is still a way to go.
The last few weeks, something has moved and the issue received more attention than before –there was a demonstration of more than 100 Interns under the `Sandwich protest` on 17th July and the initiative of the Internship Black List became vividly alive, both are aiming to raise awareness and make actions!
Will it end the endless ‘internshiping’? Will it encourage companies to comply with the legal bases for their internships? Will it eliminate the unpaid internships?
Time and reactions will tell.
However, one thing should not be forgotten: just because you are an intern you are not necessarily exploited, just because you are an intern you are not necessarily working unethically and just because you are an intern you are not necessarily wasting your time.