An article by Breda O’Brien in last week’s Irish Times revisited the thorny, and sometimes emotive, issue of unpaid internships. Branding them ‘wrong’, O’Brien went on to say; “what’s shocking is how many of our bright, talented children have come to accept the concept of working for nothing, when they should be mad as hell.”
There is bad news and good news when it comes to unpaid internships. The bad news is that yes, unsurprisingly, they do exist and there are graduates and jobseekers out there getting exploited by unscrupulous companies. The good news is that there is evidence that such cases are declining in number, employers value good interns and are more and more willing to pay them. How do we know this? Because we talked to a wide range of companies as part of our soon to be released 2014 gradireland Graduate Salary & Graduate Recruitment Trends Survey and the results point to an ever changing dynamic in the relationship between internship and employer.
But let’s first look at the broader internships issue. In the current jobs market; internships, or work experience as it used to be known, are accepted as an integral part of graduate recruitment for the majority of employers. Many companies use work experience to source good talent at an early stage and even when recruitment may be minimised or frozen, many companies do continue to recruit for internships. Of the leading graduate employers who we talked to, 81% offer internships, an overwhelming majority, but down from the 87% in last year’s survey. 35.5% of those who are recruiting interns expect to increase their intake this year.
Interestingly, only 10.4% of employers we surveyed did not pay their interns. In more good news, of the 89.6% who do pay for internships (up from 86% last year), our 2014 results show that pay scales are rising. The median pay for interns now stands at between €1,400 and €1,599, with almost 40% of the companies in our survey paying at this level. Indeed the higher pay scales for interns have jumped significantly. Last year only 8.2% of companies paid interns between €1,800 and €1,999, this year it is 15.6%. In 2013, only 4.1% paid their interns over €2,000, this year that figure jumped to 10.9%. At the lower end of the scale there have also been significant developments. Almost a quarter of the companies surveyed last year paid their interns less than €1,000 per month, this year that figure has dropped to just 4.7%, a dramatic fall.
The ‘JobBridge’ scheme has come in for withering criticism over recent times, much of it justified owing to, again, the actions of some unscrupulous employers. We found that while it remains popular, less than half of the employers (46%) we talked to were planning to participate in the scheme. We also found that almost all employers (97%) placed a clear distinction between internship programmes and JobBridge schemes, and did not use JobBridge recruits to replace existing interns.
While this research only provides a snapshot, it does include feedback from over 15 major sectors of Irish business and industry. So, if you’re a graduate considering an internship, what questions should you be asking? Firstly, make sure you know what you are going in to. Is it a structured internship, is there an induction, training and development programme in place? Will you be mentored during your internship? These are vital supports for graduates, and induction programmes are offered by 91.2% of the companies gradireland surveyed. If a company can provide you with structured training and development, you may need to be prepared to work for a lower rate of pay, or even unpaid, for a period of time. I would say that you need to consider this in the broader context of your career path, and if you feel that the training and development which you will receive is something that you can’t get elsewhere. If a company is investing their time in developing your skills, that is worth something, it will boost your employability skills and those skills are what employers are looking for. A graduate jobseeker needs to show that they are active and effective, and thankfully it is increasingly common to be paid whilst gaining this experience.
For more information on internships, read our advice here