A survey of young people aged 18-25 that I commissioned has found that 86% had completed, or were planning to partake in, some form of internship. Of that 86%, more than half (53%) reported that they felt undervalued in at least one of these experiences. The survey, commissioned over three days among 212 young people on college campuses, produced some surprising results according to Senator Noone.
I think that internships are a wonderful tool for allowing talented young graduates from a variety of fields to gain exposure to fields such as PR, public affairs, politics, journalism and a variety of jobs. However, as this survey underlines, many interns feel let down and undervalued during internships and placements. We need to work on improving this situation.
I believe that we need an internship charter to restore the public’s perception of internships, and a confidence that internships can help social mobility and – ultimately – help people secure gainful employment. The voluntary charter would be comprised of nine points, ranging from length of internship to suggestions on mentoring interns.
This is why I feel as though such a charter is important: internships can be a great tool, but their usefulness depends on the user – we just have to make sure they’re used correctly.
The first thing I’m doing as part of this charter is calling for the Government to opt into all of these points with their own JobBridge programme. We need to make sure that any internship position has not been previously advertised as a paid position and, if people spot breaches, that these breaches are reported in confidence.
Our job as a Government is to get Ireland working, but our job as legislators is also to make sure everybody in our society gets a fair shot, and is given the appropriate respect for their work too.
My proposed nine point internship charter:
1. Recruitment and Accessibility
Interns should be totally aware of the job details and recruitment process; this means the employers must provide a sufficient job description including working hours, holidays, pay or stipend and expenses cover if applicable and the eligibility criteria for the candidate. The lack of experience of candidates must also be accounted for in both the recruitment process and throughout the internship.
2. Acknowledgement of Internship as a ‘unique’ position
The internship must be a ‘unique’ position, particularly if there is no wage given, to any other position within the company. The advertisement of a similar job with a salary would breach this. Job details should be specific and interns should not take on the jobs of other employees who receive their own wage.
3. Length of Internship and Productive hours
Internships should be three months to six months depending on the exposure to the company that the intern will get within that duration of time. Graduate programmes last between one and two years and are typically paid programmes. Keeping an intern on longer for six months, particularly on a no wage basis, should only be done on the definite offer of future employment within the company.
Hours should also be flexible keeping in mind that interns might work a second part time job particularly if they are earning a low or no wage while interning. There should be an option for interns who work a second job to intern a three day week; this could mean that the length of the internship overall could be longer. Interns on a weekly stipend should work no more than an eight hour day in a five day week.
4. Personal development
Interns should undergo a performance appraisal like any other employee with an objective to help them learn rather than point out their mistakes in order to help with their own personal development within the firm. The appraisal should be used as a constructive tool to improve the ‘quality’ of the intern as well as the quality of their experience and gains. It will also provide a space where interns can give their feedback on the experience so far.
When establishing a pay rate for interns it is important to consult relevant legislation. Employers should pay interns travel expense and rent allowances depending on the living situation of the candidate at the very least.
6. Social responsibility:
There should be a social responsibility of the employer to ensure the social integration of the intern to ensure the quality of the experience. It is important interns are clued in to how the organization works and how the employees operate. Interns should be acknowledged by other employees and be able to communicate their thoughts in a helpful environment.
7. Mentorship/ training:
Interns should be assigned suitable mentors within the company for both work and social purposes. Mentorship and training should be implicitly carried out with the intern for at least half the internship to ensure the intern can complete his/her job appropriately as well as benefit from skills and experience for future career opportunities.
8. Diversity of job description/ intern input:
The interest and specific skills of interns should be acknowledged by employers. Unless the job is very specific to one division there should be an opportunity for interns to experience a diversity of divisions across the company; this will help the company gain the best form the intern in his/her skills and help the intern discover their strengths and what division suits them best.
The qualification is by far the most important part of the completing an internship as it will become an important tool for the intern to embark n future opportunities. The qualification received on completion of the internship will be in the form of a reference letter outlining exact capabilities of the intern, overall performance and skill set that the intern gained from the experience illustrated by the various jobs undertaking. It should outline any formal training his/her had.
An end interview between the employer and the intern would provide the intern with an overall feedback of the placement and give the employer an opportunity to gain feedback from the intern. An end interview would also consist of advice to the intern on their next steps in their careers.