Since publishing a report on the JobBridge programme in 2015[i], IMPACT trade union has said that the “one-size-fits-all” programme needs to be dissolved and replaced with targeted programmes aimed at distinct groups with varying labour market integration needs.
The union has emphasised the value and necessity of programmes tailored to meet the specific needs of young unemployed early school-leavers, graduates, and long-term unemployed people.
Following a newspaper report published in April this year, detailing widespread misuse of the JobBridge programme[ii] in the health service and elsewhere, IMPACT called for the scheme to be replaced as a matter of urgency. More recently, an unpublished internal audit is said to contain evidence that, under the system of initial self-declaration, “employers make a statement on their application that the intern is not displacing a job vacancy,” but that “it is not possible to verify whether or not the internship is displacing a potential job vacancy.” Similarly, the audit reveals that no checks were made against redundancy payments made by companies in order to ensure they hadn’t made staff redundant and replaced them with an intern.
This reported evidence, while still unpublished, bears out much of the anecdotal evidence on abuse of the JobBridge scheme by employers, and reflects a culture of employer participation that serves neither the interests of jobseekers nor the wider labour market.
Clearly, the time for JobBridge has passed, and any future programme must be tailored to meet the needs of those seeking employment, guard against any potential exploitation, and ensure fair remuneration for participants.
The current situation
Consequently, we can give a cautious welcome to news that the Minister for Social Protection, Leo Varadkar TD, wants to replace JobBridge with a new scheme that reflects the changing nature of the jobseeker sector. This approach is what IMPACT has been advocating for since last year, seeking support from all parties and none. That the Minister now recognises the need for a new scheme, we can confidently point him in the direction of our report.
IMPACT’s 2015 report, JobBridge: Time to start again?, was written by Dr Mary Murphy of NUI Maynooth, and stated that open market internships have the effect of displacing paid entry-level employment. It also states that internships need to be regulated and monitored, and that the culture of open market internships needs to be actively discouraged.
Launching the report last year, IMPACT Deputy General Secretary Kevin Callinan said,
“While the scheme undoubtedly served a useful purpose when youth unemployment and emigration was rocketing at the height of the economic crash, it’s now time to move on.”
This research was prompted by the IMPACT Education Division’s growing fears of the improper use of the Jobbridge scheme within the sector, following the advertisement of Special Needs Assistant posts on the Jobbridge website in Autumn 2014.
Mr Callinan added,
“Even those who guardedly welcomed the introduction of Jobbridge in 2011 have surely been troubled by instances of abuse and exploitation which have dogged the reputation of the scheme, and greatly undermined the significant number of positive outcomes which were being delivered.
“However, an argument could be made that even a flawed instrument like Jobbridge served some purpose in the context of stemming the tide of our skyrocketing levels of youth unemployment and emigration at the height of the economic collapse.
“With strong economic growth now returning and rapidly increasing employment levels, we need revised labour activation measures to adapt to reflect these changing realities.”
What can be done
Everyone who participates in an internship programme is entitled to a quality experience that offers training and mentoring opportunities, career progression pathways, and fair reimbursement.
The growing culture of open-market internships is a pervasive feature of our economy. Any internship programme that the state employs for the purposes of labour activation must take a more targeted approach that recognises the different needs of the wide variety of those who are seeking employment. For example, those who have endured long-term unemployment through the years of deep economic crisis have very different needs to recent graduates or recently-returned immigrants with diverse work experience from overseas.
Crucially, any state programme needs to guard against any use of the scheme that risks displacing or replacing full-time paid employment, or drive down basic terms and conditions for workers through overuse and misuse.
In a rapidly growing job market, where there will be some competition between employers to acquire skilled workers and graduates, the culture of unpaid internships may disappear.
But it is not enough to wait for this to happen. A whole generation has either left the country, bided their time in further education and/or continued to survive on low-paid or precarious work, or else have found themselves simply unable to enter the job market. A revised labour activation programme must recognise the needs and the potential of such a diverse range of people, and seek to develop their potential. Unless that happens, we will be faced with a legacy of lost opportunity that will endure beyond the years of crisis.
JobBridge: Time to start again? recommended:
- that interns should be adequately compensated at the trainee rate of the minimum wage as a stepping stone to decent paid employment;
- that the number of active labour market internships should be proportionate to, and no more than, 5% of total active labour market interventions;
- that internships should not be allowed in the public sector until there is full staffing and the recruitment moratorium is lifted;
- that the duration of state-funded internships should be regulated on a case-by-case basis through Intreo, LES or JobsPlus case workers, with longer internships offering possibility of progression; and
- that access to internship schemes be facilitated through regional internship strategy similar to that of Action Plan for Jobs and include working age claimants beyond the live register.