Are you experienced?


With students finding it difficult to find work of any sort this summer, Sean Finnan considers the effect the JobBridge scheme has had on the job market

Jobs haven’t been easy to come by this summer for the class of 2012. Rather than praising the work experience they undertook within various different environments over the past three years for landing them with a job, the vast majority of them are without work. With the unemployment rate in Ireland currently at 14.2 per cent, competition is tough and the surplus of labour is ripe for exploitation.

One of the Government’s pillars to tackle this joblessness according to Labour’s Joan Bruton is the JobBridge Scheme which commenced twelve months ago. JobBridge is the State’s first national internship scheme that aims to introduce 6,000 unemployed back to the labour force. The belief is that job-seekers lack the skills for employment and that by engaging with companies willing to offer their expertise in return for free labour (on their part), job-seekers will be prepared for their working lives.

It would be completely unfair to dismiss the idea behind JobBridge. Graduates more often than not need the opportunity to gain valuable experience as interns in a working environment to bridge the gap between study and employment. So far, almost 800 interns have found employment out of the 2,100 who have finished the JobBridge scheme. Less than half these interns have been kept on by the companies they interned with. Any creation of employment is to be welcomed but this also may be having a negative influence on job creation. However, as this is the government’s first major attempt to tackle unemployment, this internship scheme is placing the emphasis on the unemployed’s lack of skills. The emphasis is not on creating jobs but a sort of blame, putting the guilt on the job-seeker’s position. The notion that experience is needed for all manners of employment is completely ridiculous. This idea is continuously promoted by the government and by prominent businessmen such as Bill Cullen who claims that working for nothing is better than nothing.

Thirty of these internships were requested by the Citizenship Division of the Department of Justice and Equality last September. On the 14th of September last, Deputy Alan Shatter outlined how he intended to deal with the backlog of citizenship applications: “Steps are being taken to recruit an initial ten interns through the JobBridge National Internship Scheme to the citizenship section to afford them meaningful work experience and to assist in addressing the backlog that built up…” Last month, the Minister gave a speech at the Convention Centre in Dublin declaring: “Having made decisions on almost 28,000 applications since I took office, including more than 13,800 so far this year, I think I can safely say that the steps I initiated within my department to deal with the backlog of citizenships applications have been a huge success.”

Traditionally, a fair wage was given if someone needed a job done. The €50 top up on the social welfare payments, means that for an intern working 40 hours a week they are earning less than €4 an hour. Here there was a clear purpose and need for employment. With the embargo on employment within the public sector, there is not even the chance of employment after their hard work. Like so many others, Deputy Alan Shatter sees the goals you can reach with cheap labour.

Internships traditionally were an important opportunity for the graduate or job-seeker to gain important and rare expertise from companies in return for cheap labour. By cheap labour, many interns were given wages well over the minimum wage. Work experience in low-skilled jobs could never be considered internships as the skills gained take little time to learn. Therefore the inclusion of low skilled jobs in the JobBridge scheme can be seen to have a negative effect on employment in the low skilled sector. By “interning” those in low skilled positions such as a position currently advertised in Waterford that advertises how “interns will gain practical experience in organisation, warehousing, distribution and company processes”, it is limiting the possibility of real employment. Why employ someone for nine months when the same role can be done for free? Surely a welcome help to struggling small businesses.

Unfortunately it is not just cash strapped companies wishing to take advantage of internships. Tesco last September, applied for more than two hundred interns through JobBridge with roles that included filling shelves and ensuring that customers would not have to queue. Thankfully these “internships” were pulled. Due to take place over the Christmas period, this would have ensured that the usual rise in part-time staff would be quelled and Tesco’s profit lines would continue to grow. Tesco’s advertisement for internships highlights further how employers are challenging the unemployed against one another in a false threat that there are better people suitable for the job than you. For the unemployed to believe that they need experience to gain employment, especially in low skilled work ensures that there is a constant supply of free labour for companies willing to take advantage of such. The hope of employment is a powerful tool and easily exploited by those who can make it happen, especially in times of such high unemployment. To the cynic, the dominance of the necessity of experience for all job opportunities may be more exploitation than education.