The issue of payment has split many the opinion when it comes to internships.
There is great merit to the unpaid internship when conducted in a professional decent manner; however it is the uncertainty surrounding many of these positions which has given rise to good old fashioned exploitation.
Unpaid internships have become a hot topic in recent weeks. An advert for an intern position within So Sue Me was the proverbial spark which set alight a tinderbox of frustration amongst the population of journalists who continue to struggle in the hunt for work.
Úna Kavanagh, a journalist who is currently seeking employment explained that the “lack of clarity” is what threw her immediately on seeing the ad, as well as the fact that “the person was expected to have proven skills before they should even consider applying” a request which serves only to benefit the employer. Úna hit the nail on the head by declaring that “ultimately it comes down to whether you’re learning something new.”
There must be a balance between monetary reward and the process of learning the essential skills necessary to increase employability, yet in all too many cases there is a worrying lack of either incentives. What is yet more worrying is that even in the absence of any real incentive, the position will be filled by aspiring writers clutching desperately for a foothold on the employment ladder.
This is by no means a call for the extermination of this particular species of internship. Unpaid internships have been the making of some of Ireland’s leading journalists and media moguls have themselves been through the process.
Sarah Doran, a successful freelance journalist, broadcaster and media professional is a shining example of the power of the unpaid internship. Only two months into her first long haul unpaid internship, Sarah was granted the opportunity to take over an entire section of entertainment.ie, launching her on a career trajectory to be proud of.
Yet she too has had to turn down positions due to the logistical challenges of working for so long without any remuneration.
Sarah speaks for journalists nationwide when she calls for employers to realise that internships are an “opportunity to discover new talent and train someone who could become a valuable asset to a business or company, not simply get in cheap labour who can be shipped out and replaced by the next willing applicant.” It is this attitude of dishonour amongst employers which is so damaging to the development of budding writers in Ireland.
All hope is not lost, despite this tale of woe. Speaking to RTE’s Claire Daly Live last week, JOE.ie’s Niall McGarry insisted that interns must be paid for the work they do as would any other employee, fair is fair. Bob Coggins, managing director of Havas Worldwide is another of the good guys when it comes to hiring interns; “I always pay interns. I expect them to work hard, learn hard and be as clever and resourceful in return.” This attitude leaves no room for bullshit and is exactly what is needed in combatting dead end unpaid positions.
It is difficult to envisage an end to the ‘conveyor belt’ effect felt by interns today. Yet I remain hopeful that publications will wake up and realise that they are missing out on a goldmine of bright young minds by refusing to shell out.