Written by Allan Päll, secretary general of the European Youth Forum
At this European Business Summit the European Youth Forum will be hosting a “Meet the expert session” on quality internships: what can business do?. We hope to meet with and discuss with many businesses how they can improve their internship schemes or start providing decent quality internships and how this is actually beneficial for them as employers too.
But why do we see this as such a key topic to address at this high-level event? Well ask any young person now what they think about internships and they are sure to have a strong opinion. Most will have done one, many will have undertaken several internships and, unfortunately, such experiences are not always of good quality.
Undertaking an internship is now a rite of passage for young Europeans, but the quality of such internships is often unacceptable. Whilst almost half of Europe’s young people have done an internship, only one third of these are paid and 35% are undertaken without a contract. As the platform of youth organisations in Europe, the European Youth Forum strongly advocates to make internships a valuable stepping stone into a quality job, rather than – as they too often are – the replacement of real jobs. To do this we created our European Charter on Quality Internships and Apprenticeships, which lays out the criteria for best practice when it comes to internships.
It is a shame that European leaders have been slow to recognise this as an issue and the Quality Framework for Traineeships adopted by the European Council last year did little to remedy the situation. It included no proposals that require internship providers to pay their interns or offer them access to social protection, thus perpetuating the status quo that internships are not accessible to all young people and thus a form of social discrimination. The weakness of the Framework has been perceived by many to be as a result of business’ fears that quality internships are expensive and difficult to achieve.
That is why we decided to go directly to employers and try to allay such fears. Many organisations, in fact, already appreciate the benefits of providing quality internships. For the intern, the benefits are clear: they are provided with a learning experience and first step into the working world. They should be given strong support, in the form of guidance, as well as challenging tasks- not the cliché of the intern perpetually at the photocopier. And where the internship is taking place outside education, they should receive remuneration and protection, as any other employee does.
What has not been promoted enough so far is the benefit to the employer of providing such internships; We have been working with different employers (Microsoft, Titan Cement, Abbvie, Adecco, EUK Consulting, EPACA and the European Brands Association) in order to identify what these benefits are and to set out best practices from employers themselves on how to ensure internships benefit both interns and employers. We’ve also been working with new initiatives that aim to reward employers that offer quality youth opportunities. InternsGoPro is one such example, having developed a Quality Label for employers that provide such internship schemes – with the Youth Forum itself one of the first employers to receive the label.
The Employer’s Guide for Quality Internships is the result of these collaborative efforts from business, civil society and youth organisations. The Guide is based on the Youth Forum’s own European Quality Charter on Internships and Apprenticeships, and has sparked much interest from the business world; that is why we are delighted to be at the European Business Summit to explain to business why this important issue should be tackled now and why it’s good for young people and for business too!