Youth leader: ‘We need to stop internships replacing real jobs’

Johanna Nyman [European Youth Forum]

Internships should be a proper learning experience, with good supervision and guidance, says Johanna Nyman. It should also have a positive, supportive working environment with an opportunity for career development and – ideally – a job at the end of the internship.

Johanna Nyman is the President of the European Youth Forum (YFJ), a platform that represents 99 youth organisations in Europe. She spoke to EURACTIV’s Ecaterina Casinge.

What do you consider a high-quality internship?

A high quality internship is one which is educational – which provides the young person doing it with a proper learning experience. The intern making the coffee and doing the photocopying may be a cliché, but it’s all too familiar a circumstance for many young people. A good quality internship should be structured, it should include strong guidance from supervisors and mentorship, interns should have a contract in place that they are working under and, if that internship is outside the educational system, it must also be paid! We need to stop internships replacing real jobs and make them the stepping stone into work that they ought to be. 

Does the Employers’ Guide to Quality Internships you recently launched take into consideration the different national circumstances, priorities and skills of the trainees?

The Guide includes tools and practices that can be put in place in any organisation, no matter what the national circumstances, either in relation to legislation or the skills and priorities of the interns. We want to show that there are no excuses for any organisation to offer poor quality internships, and that quality can be ensured regardless of the size, specific national legislation and priorities of the employer. This is why the employers that contributed to the Guide range from multinationals, to SMEs to employers’ organisations. In the meantime, the Youth Forum is, in parallel, conducting research which will complement the Guide- outlining the legal aspect of internships and the legislation in place governing internships on the national level.

What are the key recommendations for employers and trainees in the guide in order to have a successful experience?

We recommend in the Guide – which was put together with leading employers – that internships are a proper learning experience, that the intern is given good supervision and guidance, that there is a positive, supportive working environment and that there is the opportunity for career development and – ideally – a job at the end of the internship. The Guide gives many examples of ways to ensure all these principles – things already in place in many organisations and that have proven to have results. 

How difficult is to convince employers to follow these new guidelines, especially when they are non-binding? 

This guide, and the good practice within it, are indeed, non-binding. However, we hope that, given that the guide has been developed with leading employers that are already putting in practice these kinds of good quality schemes, it will be persuasive and other employers will recognise the benefits of implementing similar internship schemes. The case studies in the guide illustrate that good quality internship schemes are a “win-win” for the intern and the employer: amongst other benefits, the employer gets a pipeline of fresh young talent as well as contributing to the development of young people and enhancing their own reputation.

What do you plan to achieve after launching this initiative, and what are the Youth Forum’s long-term goals in this area?

Our work on improving the quality of internships does not stop here! We will conduct research on intern legislation, as well as continue our work with employers to spread good practice: for example, we have launched an initiative with our partner the European Brands Association called “skills for the future” through which we plan to encourage companies to use the tools such as the guide, as well as to develop new ones that will help employers to improve their internships. We will also continue to work with partners, such as InternsGoPro – from whom we have recently received their Quality Label for our own internships – to encourage employers to sign up and have their schemes recognised. Finally, we will continue to advocate towards the policy makers using our Quality Charter on Internships and apprenticeship, to help to try to make poor quality, unpaid internships a thing of the past! 

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