While the ‘job activation measure’ has had a bad reputation, our Opinions Editor Elizabeth O'Malley questions whether it is deserved.
I was recently in the audience of the Claire Byrne show which discussed the position of under-25s in Ireland. There was a lot of animosity in the audience towards JobBridge, although one of the women argued that she had received important training which would hopefully lead to a permanent job.
Depending on who you talk to, JobBridge is either a good way to get a foot on the job ladder, or a means for companies to get free labour.
According to an independent study by Indecon, 61.4% of people who had been on JobBridge found employment within six months. This compares favourably to other intern programmes in the EU where the number is estimated to be around 34%.
But when you take a closer look you find that the quality of jobs is lacking. Only 42.2% of those employed have permanent, full-time jobs. The rest of the jobs are either part time or temporary.
The average wage is also only 56% of the average hourly earnings across the economy.
The Indecon report explores the idea of ‘deadweight’ - people who join the program but receive little benefit from it.
For graduates and those with post-graduate degrees, the report suggests that the chance of becoming employed after JobBridge was similar to that if you hadn’t participated in the program.
In 2013, 41.7% of participants had a undergraduate degree and 22.4% had a postgraduate degree.
The report also showed that 72.3% of participants were previously employed on a full-time basis, three quarters of whom were employed for more than two years.
A survey of previous participants found 44.7% did not agree with the statement that the scheme provided new skills.
People who already have education and experience join the JobBridge scheme and presumably get little or no help from it.
This takes places from more disadvantaged people who do much better on average on the job market than those who did not have a registered internship.
It also encourages companies to provide intern positions which require people to have third level degrees.
In a search of the available JobBridge positions, at least a quarter of the advertised positions required a third level degree, including for jobs like ‘architect’ and ‘research coordinator’ and ‘environmental scientist’.
Ironically, there was also an advertisement for a ‘job coach’.
One of the problems of the proliferation of internships is that they may lower the chances of someone getting an entry level job.
Indecon interviewed a number of host organisations as part of their study and found that 22.5% would have been fairly likely and 6.5% highly likely to have recruited a paid employee if JobBridge did not exist.
Therefore there is truth to the belief that JobBridge internships are taking the place of paid jobs.
This obviously makes sense for employers, considering what little interns are paid comes from the Government. But it is damaging to the numbers of young people who are forced to work for free when they could have been paid instead.
It is infuriating to see jobs such as ‘menswear salesperson’ and ‘pharmacy sales assistant’ on JobBridge. Supervalu were banned from participating in JobBridge after protests when they advertised for jobs as bakers, butchers and sales assistants.
NYCI interviewed 84 people and only 46.5% said that the responsibilities of their role matched the advertisement to a large extent.
While 39.4% also said that they had received no training on the job. One in five were concerned about the way they were treated by their employer.
While around half of those would recommend JobBridge to other people, a large number came away dissatisfied with their experience according to NYCI report, including one person saying their internship was equivalent to slavery.
The road to hell is paved with good intentions
The Government set up JobBridge with the intention of giving“young people the opportunity to gain valuable experience as they move between study and the beginning of their working lives”.
Given the high level of youth unemployment, any scheme which aims at increasing the number of jobs for young people has to be commended.
But without some kind of quality control or restrictions on the types of jobs being provided we are seeing less entry level jobs which lead to a employment with the host organisation, and more exploitation by companies taking advantage of a free labour scheme.
The scheme is to be reviewed at the beginning of 2016 with the Government considering whether to scrap it now that the employment situation has improved.
If it is continued there will need to be a serious consideration on the quality of the jobs being offered.