New research commissioned by leading Irish advertising agency Chemistry reveals majority of Irish interns are unpaid and a third feel ‘unfairly treated’
Duties included menial and tasks including collecting dry cleaning or providing childcare
Chemistry calls for an end to the ‘slave labour’ of internships and unethical treatment of graduates
‘Working for free’ is now viewed by many as a mandatory step on their career ladders
New graduates into the Irish workforce are forced into internships, beset by unfair treatment and unpaid labour, new research has revealed. The research, commissioned by leading Irish advertising agency Chemistry, spoke to almost 140 people who are in or have recently completed an internship.
The survey revealed that:
52% of Irish interns are unpaid (or just had expenses covered)
28% of interns don’t have a valuable work experience during their internship, and 28% felt taken advantage of
Over a third of interns did the same job as a paid employee, including meeting clients and delivering billed client work; or their work was confined to lesser or menial tasks and administrative duties
Chemistry says the problem is particularly rife within the creative industries of advertising, media, design and digital. Ray Sheerin, MD of Chemistry, calls on all industries to end these unfair practices:
“Our research confirms what we have long suspected: across many industries internships are practically mandatory, gruelling and most don’t result in a paid job at the end. The whole ‘internship economy’ breeds exploitation. The treatment we’re hearing about through this research and on the grapevine is highly unethical to say the least. The kinds of duties interns are expected to perform are often either replacing a paid employee, or are menial, administrative, or simply don’t relate to the industry they are trying to break into.”
The survey also revealed that 35% of young people did the same job as a paid employee – be that meeting clients, carrying out work which was billed to clients, or replacing what would be a paid position. 23% felt they performed unfair duties – these included running errands unrelated to the jobs, working overtime, running personal errands for their employees, and doing the same work as full time employees. 20% felt they were put in a situation they felt unqualified to deal with.
Many believe an internship is a pathway to guaranteed employment, and 50% felt they had no choice but to do an internship in order to gain employment in the industry. However, 45% of respondents are currently unemployed, and 61% weren’t hired by the company they interned with. In order to make ends meet, of those who weren’t paid, 44% had to take on a part time job and 8% take out a loan to fund their internship. 95% believe that employers should be required to have better defined and fairer intern policies.
Ray points out one of the major dangers in expecting all graduates to complete internships is the impact it has on diversity in the industry.
“One of the most worrying developments is the lack of diversity this ‘internship economy’ breeds in our industry. Young people spend four years studying for a degree, and many go straight on to do a Masters. After five or even more years in college, now they are then expected to work for six to 12 months unpaid as an extra step towards a paid role. With rent the way it is in our cities, very few young people can afford to live in Dublin or one of our bigger cities and work for free, unless their parents are from here. What we’re seeing is – as a result – primary candidates for new roles are Dublin-based, and generally from well-off families. There’s an urban-rural divide, and a significant barrier for entry into these creative roles for people from rural background, or those who simply can’t afford to work for nothing and very little experience. None of this is good news for industry, in particular industries like ours which thrives on creativity and diversity of teams.”
Chemistry’s approach to internships is simple. For an educational internship, which is where they take on students who are in the middle of their degree for work experience, since the internship is part of their educational course, the obligation is to provide as much of a learning experience as possible. Students have regular opportunities to shadow senior people within the company, and see as much of how the business operates as they can. Post-education interns are paid, and again have an educational focus to their time. Chemistry’s policy is not to take on post-education interns where they believe there is no potential role available for them at the end of the internship.
Siofra Murdock, now an Art Director in Chemistry, started out as an intern in Chemistry:
“I was really surprised at the level of experience I gained in Chemistry compared to a lot of my friends who were doing internships at the time and who were really disappointed in what they ended up doing. I wasn’t sure what to expect at all – probably making tea and photocopying! But I was given creative briefs to work on alongside creative teams, I was able to sit in on creative meetings, contribute ideas, and shadow senior people on some major national advertising campaigns. As well as learning so much, I was able to prove myself, so much so that they hired me. And they are now helping to pay for a course I’m doing to develop my skills further.”
Orla Kennedy, now an Account Executive at Chemistry, did her internship as part of her college degree:
“I learned way more in my internship at Chemistry than I did in college about things like client and project management, and I got to go on a TV shoot and radio recordings. I was thrilled to be offered a role when I finished my degree several months later – I suppose in Chemistry they see an internship like a long job interview.”
Ray went on to say, “how we approach internships isn’t rocket science, in fact it is the bare minimum standard which young people should expect. We are calling on all workplaces to re-examine their internship policies. We absolutely need to see a cultural shift here: it can’t become par for the course that our best and brightest are expected to work long hours for no pay. This kind of slave labour is not what we should build our businesses on. We’re calling on others to follow our lead, so collectively we ensure we are providing a quality, valuable experience for interns: with at minimum, the chance of a job at the end.”
Finally, Ray has advice for young people who are applying for internships.
“If you are thinking of taking on an internship, there are some questions to ask before taking on a role which will help ensure you get the best possible experience in return for your time and energy, and make sure you will be working for a company which is ethical and values diversity in the workplace.
Firstly, always ask if there is a potential for employment at the end of the internship. Then ask if there is payment for your time – if not, what experience will you gain as part of the internship, and who will you learn from? Will there be opportunities to shadow people in different parts of the business, especially the area you are most interested in? And finally, be sure that the internship has a clear start and end date: and don’t extend out the internship if it isn’t really valuable for your own experience or there’s a promise of a job.”
This research was commissioned by Chemistry and conducted by iReach market research, March 2017.
Chemistry will have a number of spokespeople available for interview:
Ray Sheerin, MD, Chemistry
Deirdre Gunning, Client Service Director, Chemistry
For more information or to arrange an interview, please call
Ciara O’Connor Walsh, Carr Communications, 0851076017
Or Aine Roddy, Carr Communications, 0877773688