Thanks, but no thanks! Young people fighting against precarious internships

Today’s post is contributed by the European Youth Forum. The Forum has created a survey on internship experiences in Europe.

When you want something very much, you are ready and even willing to make sacrifices, hoping that in the end your efforts will pay off. Such an approach to life is generally accepted in society – you have to work hard to achieve something.  However, how much should a young person be ready to give up in order to earn a living?

For young graduates, entering the labour market nowadays is not an easy task. The transition from education to employment is long, marked with little stability, low income and tasks that rarely correspond to acquired knowledge and skills. Postgraduate internships are a typical example. This practice is spreading in many countries, and is often used by industries with very healthy profit margins. Young people are queuing up and competing for 3-month unpaid internships, usually with no prospects of a permanent contract. And after one internship there will have to be another and then another. For many young people this will a be a sacrifice leading to nowhere, not serving as a stepping stone and not offering them a dream job. Despite adding a line or two to a CV, postgraduate precarious internships are not a solution. Thanks, but no thanks!

Why do we in the European Youth Forum care? Because our members live this precarious reality. The Forum is an independent, democratic, youth-led platform made up of 98 National Youth Councils and international youth NGOs from across Europe that works to empower young people to participate actively in society to improve their own lives, by representing and advocating for their needs and interests and those of their organisations. Youth employment is one of the strategic priorities of European Youth Forum, and our actions show a good example of how young people can mobilise to fight trends and developments that they do not find acceptable. The European Youth Forum`s work on internships is based on its Opinion Paper on Internships.

Proving with numbers! The European Youth Forum recognises the urgent need to properly identify the scope of the problem. At the moment internships are rarely included in statistics, because interns no longer have student status and are not yet considered employees. In order to gather such data, the European Youth Forum has created a survey on internship experiences in Europe. This data will provide a better representation of the real situation of internships regarding access to internships, mentoring, remuneration and job opportunities. Across Europe, it will help to advocate for a more beneficial internship experience, a smoother transition from education to employment for young people, and is likely to further confirm the need for a European Quality Charter on Internships that will establish quality guidelines for internships across Europe. Please help us spread this survey, by sending the link to your friends, contacts and fellow interns!

 Showing the reality! In 2010 the European Youth Forum made a short film, “Internview”, as part of its on-going advocacy work on internships. The purpose of the video is to take a look at the lives of the interns themselves, to go beyond the policy and to see how interns and former interns feel about the internship system.

Raising awareness! The European Youth Forum does not only address external actors but encourages its Member Organisations to address youth employment matters (and internships as part of it) more actively. One such initiative, the Youth Employment Action, was established in 2009 by a transnational consortium of European Youth Forum Member Organisations. It aims to improve the situation of young people by providing practical training and projects at local and European levels, exchanging best practices, and providing information, resources and lobbying for constructive action to be taken to ensure adequate and fair employment opportunities for young people in Europe. By providing this information to young jobseekers and workers, and through lobbying on their behalf, we hope to improve the position of young people in the labour market and work for economic growth and sustainability in the future.

Clearly precarious internships are not a sustainable solution for the autonomy and future of young people. They can serve as a temporary solution – but accepting such offers only aggravates negative trends. The European Youth Forum believes that more efforts are needed from relevant stakeholders to improve the situation of young people in the labour market. Youth organisations try to lead by example and hereby invite others to join in this work. If not more, could you at least take a few minutes to fill in and spread the survey?

Useful links

OECD Forum 2011: Getting back to work

Off to a good start? Jobs for youth OECD study

Cooking, Caring and Volunteering: Unpaid Work Around the World OECD Social,Employment and Migration Working Paper

OECD work on boosting jobs and skills

Join the gang. Better still, don’t.

We'll think about it

Most of us like to think of ourselves as rugged individualists – people who don’t run with the herd. The reality is less romantic: As countless bubbles have shown – from Dutch tulip mania in the 17th century to inflated property prices in the past decade – the prospect of a quick buck means there’s usually no shortage of people happy to get swept along.

The financial crisis illustrated the risks of such herd behaviour. But it also cast a light on another sort of dangerous collective thinking – groupthink. Unlike herd behaviour – where people, businesses or institutions follow each other blindly – groupthink happens within institutions. In effect, because of real or imagined pressure, employees swallow their doubts and allow their thinking to fall into line with the dominant view. In recent months, several reports have exposed how groupthink allowed regulators and officials to ignore alarm bells in the run up to the crisis.

And it didn’t just happen at national level – even the IMF has admitted that its internal culture tended to silence dissent. In a commendably frank report, the IMF’s evaluation office says one reason why the organisation failed to identify the mounting risks to the global economy was “a high degree of groupthink” and “an institutional culture that discourages contrarian views”.

 “The prevailing view among IMF staff – a cohesive group of macroeconomists – was that market discipline and self-regulation would be sufficient to stave off serious problems in financial institutions,” the report says. “They also believed that crises were unlikely to happen in advanced economies, where ‘sophisticated’ financial markets could thrive safely with minimal regulation of a large and growing portion of the financial system.” 

Although the term itself isn’t used, groupthink also raises its head in the report from the Financial Crisis Inquiry Commission, which investigated the crisis in the United States. It says that too often, regulators “lacked the political will – in a political and ideological environment that constrained it – as well as the fortitude to critically challenge the institutions and the entire system they were entrusted to oversee.”

The report also shows how the pressure to confirm wasn’t just imagined. At the ratings agency Moody’s, company president Brian Clarkson ruled with an iron fist: “According to some former Moody’s employees, Clarkson’s management style left little room for discussion or dissent. [Gary Witt, a former Moody’s employee] referred to Clarkson as the ‘dictator’ of Moody’s and said that if he asked an employee to do something, ‘either you comply with his request or you start looking for another job.’” The report, by the way, is a terrific read.

And groupthink is one of the factors – along with herd behaviour – fingered in a report on Ireland’s crisis by the Finnish banking expert, Peter Nyberg. In banks and financial institutions, it says, “diverging views or initiatives were often not appreciated and only occasionally sanctioned.” Among the regulators, it says of the Central Bank, for example, that there “are signs that, reinforced by the relatively hierarchical structure of the [Bank], a climate of self-censorship had become prevalent”.

Of course, groupthink alone didn’t cause the crisis. Still, it would be foolish not to think about it can be addressed. The reports offer some thoughts on how that can be done: Among a series of recommendations, the IMF report says staff should be encouraged “to be more candid about the ‘known unknowns,’ to be more ready to challenge their own preconceptions” and that managers “should encourage staff to ask probing questions …”. The Nyberg report says “it must become respectable and welcome to express professionally argued contrarian views…”. 

Right now, when regulators and banks are still feeling spooked in the wake of the crisis, there’s probably an appetite for contrarian views. But that may not last forever. The real test of whether dissent is really welcome will come in the next boom, or, more likely, the next bubble.

Useful links 

OEDC work on finance

OECD Insights: From Crisis to Recovery

OECD work on restoring public trust