Here in Ireland instead of regulating against unpaid internships the government implemented the JobBridge scheme. It was set up in 2011 to help the unemployed get work experience.

The scheme had people on long-term jobseeker’s benefits work as interns for a company in exchange for an extra €52 on top of their social welfare payment. The scheme has now since stopped since October 2016 and is being replaced by The Youth Employment Support Scheme.

JobBridge Scheme

The JobBridge scheme came in for some heavy criticism. It did so because people felt it was an exploitation of workers by certain companies and that the extra €52 was not enough. According to employment solicitor Richard Grogan, there should be no such thing as an “unpaid internship”. He believes you’re either an employee or you’re not an employee. If you’re an intern, you’re a worker. The Department of Social Protection informed that any worker legally contracted has the right to the national minimum wage of €9.55, irrespective of whether they are designated an intern or not.

Internships aren’t all bad news either. Certain internships can provide invaluable experience. If they are paid for their contributions correctly it is a great way to enhance their career opportunities going forward. However, some companies can be questioned from an ethical perspective. Possibly the most effective means to distinguish between an apt internship and a poorly hidden low or no pay job is to ascertain whether the position is vital to the day to day operations of the company. If you are learning new skills but if you were absent would it have a negative effect on the organisation? If not, then it is perhaps a genuine opportunity. However, if you’re making sales calls that wouldn’t be made otherwise or dislodging a paid receptionist then by classification you are an employee. Therefore, you should be getting paid for your work. The difficulty is it’s a grey area in which many businesses take advantage of.

For many, an unpaid internship is often seen as classist. This is because many people need to work to live and provide for themselves and or their family. These kinds of internships eliminate those who need a source of income, while others that come from a wealthy background have a bigger advantage because they don’t have to worry financially.

A report by the Irish Times highlighted the fact that one woman stated that “she will have to emigrate or do paid work in an area unrelated to her expertise rather than do another internship. She, and her parents, simply can’t afford to have her working unpaid anymore”. Instances such as this showcase how an unpaid internship can influence someone to give up on their career path. This is particularly harmful considering a lot of Irish graduates have had to leave the country to source work in their related field.

Future of Internships

Going forward the presence of these unpaid internships needs to be looked at. Although they may possibly help a student in pursuit of a desired career path, the real reality is that they are actually harmful to the pursuit of any given career. However, that is not to suggest that all unpaid internships work this way, but it seems the majority do. The situation highlights the current reality that the majority of unpaid internships are elitist in general. They stop upward mobility or completely restricts one’s ability to gain employment in their desired career. They provide no significant experience in said career.

Make no qualms that employers are not to blame for the unpaid internships. They are taking the opportunity to keep their costs down especially small businesses. The Irish Government needs to have a proper think about how they are going to deal with internships. They need to make sure it works better than the JobBridge scheme idea.