Transition between education and employment: how the internship culture is threatening the foundations of our education

European Youth Insights is a platform provided by the European Youth Forum and the European Sting, to allow young people to air their views on issues that matter to them. Written by Pierre-Julien Bosser-Lamy, Co-founder @ InternsGoPro

Pierre-Julien Bosser-Lamy is Co-founder @ InternsGoPro, Social Enterprise Standing up for Youth Employment

Pierre-Julien Bosser-Lamy
is Co-founder @ InternsGoPro, Social Enterprise Standing up for Youth Employment

At the end of our studies, many of us are confronted with difficulties in order to find a job. Too often we have to demonstrate two-years of working experience while freshly graduated. Though we are the most qualified generation in history, the European Youth faces increasing difficulties for making its first steps in the labour market.

Internships are regularly presented as the only opportunity left for an integration into the labor market. The skills acquired outside the education system shall provide us a decisive advantage in finding a job. Undeniably, internships are a growing trend and are becoming structural in the labour market; the job pyramid, in many industries, often doesn’t start at entry level; it starts at internship. There are now 4.5 million young people doing an internship every year in Europe.

Yet, concerns have arisen in recent years owing to the quality of the trainings received.

Various studies and surveys have found that quality problems affect a significant share of traineeships, most particularly those where no educational or training institution is directly responsible for the learning content and the working conditions of the traineeship. Indeed, according to official data 59% of internships are unpaid, 40% of interns work without a contract and more strikingly 30% of internships have poor or no learning content.

The poor educational content of internships and thus their failure to provide skills and real professional value prevents many young people from landing to a job and easily lead them to a phenomenon of accumulation of internships. The situation is thus looking dire for the European youth and its educational system.

What is the root of the problem? Is it due to the cutthroat competition for knowledge-economy jobs in an economy in crisis? Is it the lack of investment in our generation? or the skills gap between what a generation weaned on a liberal education is trained for and what the in-demand skills and professions are right now? The real causes are manifold but what is certain it is that the credibility of our education vanishes as the payoff for going to a good college is elusive. The reality of being told for two to three years after graduation that you aren’t qualified for a low-level job, and then having to go into debt to get qualified make us lose faith in the quality of our education.

Still, prestigious internships can give a clear push to one’s career but most of them – such as the United Nations – are Un(der)paid and tend to close off opportunities for people coming from disadvantaged backgrounds. High-quality and prestigious internships leading to jobs favor young people who come from affluent or relatively wealthy families and can afford to work for free. This results in depriving the less socioeconomically fortunate students of such opportunities, and it promotes greater inequality by having the top economic tier becoming less and less diverse.

By externalizing working skills acquisition to external actors, our education cannot guarantee anymore that every young person will have the same chances and competences to affront the world of work. Our educational system is thus challenging its own foundations.

Internships does not only question our educational system but impacts the social and economic mobility of labor by restricting access to internships to interns who cannot afford to move away from their domicile and relocate to where the internship is offered.

Therefore, I urge decision-makers to reassess the way young people are given education and trainings. Internships should be included within the education system and allowed only under this framework. Not only would this action reinforce the credibility of the education we receive but would also guarantee an equity of access to qualifications and careers. Young people coming from disadvantaged backgrounds are more protected while in education. A quality education system should be directly responsible for monitoring the learning content and the working conditions of internship; even if the internship takes place one year after graduation

It is thus essential to rethink our educational system in line with the new trends developing in the labour market in order to guarantee social and economic mobility for everyone.

About the author

“I am a social entrepreneur and youth activist. My background in philosophy and European studies led me to investigate the enormous potential of people for social transformation. I co-founded InternsGoPro; because I believe in real democracy and in the power of communities to organize to pursue their interests. I am convinced that if every young person could access quality education and quality trainings, youth could bring the most to society. I am passionate about helping people take a stand and make a difference in the word.”

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