A JobBridge Too Far

Posted on September 19, 2011



I’ve been reading a lot lately about JobBridge, specifically a lot of criticism and scrutiny of the programme – it’s exploitative, it’s demeaning, it’s not doing what it’s supposed to do…

All three, from what I’ve read and researched into the JobBridge scheme are pretty true.

Many of us know these kind of schemes as internships or apprenticeships. I’ve always seen apprenticeships to be associated with craft occupations: carpentry, plastering, painting, etc. Internships have always connoted some kind of white collar profession: business, marketing, media (the area I, myself am trying to break into) ¸medical placements, etc.

Take today’s article on The Journal.ie tells the story of the kindly corporate giant Tesco, offering 145 “internships” across 17 stores for a six month period. Hmm. Perhaps, it’s in merchandising? Or promotion planning, or possibly even as a technical assistant in the electrical area.

But no. The 145 Tesco “internships” are essentially in shelf-stacking.

Now, I’ve worked in a wholesaler’s for 5 years and I’ve learned the importance of shelf-stacking: make it all fit in a nice line, move the shorter dated items to the front… Outside of those two main points which, let’s face it, are not rocket science, there’s not a whole lot to shelf stacking.

Nor is there a whole lot to politely informing a customer that the beans are in the next aisle, next to the peas and sweet corn. I don’t see a whole lot of benefit in these internships for young college graduates or even older people looking for a career change or a new opportunity.

In the great scheme of things, I think JobBridge could be a good initiative. I think the right people will get the right things out of it. But I can’t see how anybody can get the right thing out of a shelf-stacking internship. To me, that is pure and utter exploitation of the system.

JobBridge is a very handy source of free labour for most companies at the moment and the danger lies in the fact that companies will start to take advantage of that as some already have. I also can’t understand the government and many of the public’s opinion on it. The government are saying that it’s a great of getting people back to work and back into the position of having a schedule in which work is an integral part.

But I have to wonder at how internships have been treated in the past.

Around the start of 2009, I did an internship. It required me to be in Dublin three days a week so I commuted from my home place which was a good two hours away. I went out and got an internship of my own accord, I moved to better my chances at getting a job or, as it happened, get into a Masters course which I loved and am sure will be invaluable to me in the future. Yet, I was entitled to nothing from the social welfare because, technically, I wasn’t “available for work”.

What’s the difference between the internship I did and the internships that JobBridge are offering? Mine was also unpaid which meant that it was actually costing me to do it. But yet, by attempting to better my chances at getting a job, through a placement which I knew would help me to do so, I was entitled to nothing.

In the end, I had to give up the internship and do some freelance from home because I could not afford to keep it up.

Similarly, this past summer, I worked for two months in one of Ireland’s top media companies. Again, I was unpaid but the experience was again invaluable. Again, I was entitled to nothing because, again, I was unavailable for work despite the fact that  I was once again, partaking in a work placement that would help me in my future career.

If someone can tell me the difference between my two internships and the ones that JobBridge are offering, I would be delighted to hear it. Interns before JobBridge were getting a pretty raw deal of it in terms of pay and keep. Most interns are happy to have the opportunity to gain experience in a company but to be cut off from any form of financial support from the state made it quite difficult for a lot of interns, including myself.

It seems that to me that JobBridge is essentially legalising and justifying the exploitation of people and acquiring of free labour. The only difference between it and my internships was the inclusion of social welfare payments because the government knew that the scheme would have no hope of working without them.

But if my internship was seen as work that disabled me from receiving social welfare money, surely the internships in JobBridge should be seen as work too.

And being paid less (far less) than minimum wage for working 40 hours is, I’m pretty sure, exploitative.