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On the Rampage: Internships and Work Experience

Posted July 18, 2012 by Sue Murphy in Ramp Specials

‘I’m as mad as hell and I’m not gonna take this anymore!’

Technically speaking, I work in the media, and have for a few years now. When I look back, I often think if I knew what was involved in getting a job in this area, I would have immediately picked teaching as a career option. There is this common misconception that working in the media is glamorous, easy-going, rewarding. I’m here to tell you it is… for people like Graham Norton. For the ordinary, everyday schmuck that runs around like a blue-arsed fly, it is a very different story. It is far from glamorous, so take away any notions you may have about yourself. It is tremendously hard work, long days for little or no pay and only after a few years of difficult work can it be rewarding. But media work, whether journalism, radio or television, is like a bug. Once you have a glimpse of the Promised Land, it’s very difficult to turn around and walk away.

This brings me to the subject of internships and work experience, particularly in media, but in other areas too which have seen a sharp increase in the amount of people that have been taken on free of charge. Please do not get me wrong. I understand why the concept of internships and work experience exist; for many it is their first foot in the door. On occasion, it is used to find the person who truly matches the job description and to weed out those who don’t give a damn. It’s used for college students to give them hands-on experience. For the most part, it’s used to build a contact base and prove your worth. Others give over their time to charity-based organisations or those that are there for the general good. 90% of those pursuing an internship and work experience will give up any sort of social life in order to realise their career dream.

This is where they are taken advantage of, and this is what makes my blood boil so much I have considered walking into certain establishments and burning the place down.

First of all, most jobs require that you will have work experience of the position to undertake the work and that’s all fine, but how do you expect me to gain this mythical experience if you don’t GIVE me the work experience? On top of that, this means a lot of time that you have to work for free. Oh yes, that horrible word. Working for free. That is no problem; I have absolutely no problem living in a box and starving myself as long as you give me this work experience.

Some have the luxury of living at home while they work for free. Others – me included – do not. I have bills to pay, I have a bloody college loan to pay off, rent, electricity, food.

My personal favourite? WORK EXPERIENCE, MUST HAVE CAR. Which, a lot of the time, means I will have to live in said car to undertake the work experience.

It is completely understandable that a lot of businesses nowadays literally cannot afford the positions they are advertising for and so have to advertise for interns. This is ONLY acceptable if the intern is GAINING something from it, learning something, EXPERIENCING!

Oh, and the crème de la crème! You work your bloody ass off for months, you break your back, you hold down jobs left, right and centre and the next day the boss’s daughter walks in, fresh from college, and takes over your position, PAID. Yes, we are no longer employed on merit. In fact, if you ask anyone working in media, and perhaps a lot of other industries, a lot of them will say ‘Oh sure, my girlfriend’s sister’s boyfriend’s uncle owned the place and I got it.’ It makes me sick to my stomach walking into an interview with a thought at the back of my mind that not only may I not have the experience (see previous paragraphs) but that this may all be for show and the person who will be taking the position has already been told on the QT and are sitting at their damn desk. What makes me suicidal? They don’t even WANT the job – they just want the pay!

And so, dear friends, I ask you as a collective to begin preventing this from happening. Internships and work experience are now almost becoming a norm for the elite, the middle class is disappearing and the divide between working and upper class is becoming more evident by the day. The JobBridge initiative is a step in the right direction but every day I log on to job websites and there are still a great deal of internships advertised. On one occasion I logged onto IFTN and there was a production assistant position advertised. I went back later to apply for it and it had disappeared from the website. On the off chance, I checked the FÁS website and lo and behold, there it was as a JobBridge position.

For companies who can afford to pay people, there is NO EXCUSE. We have spent years in college learning, researching and working to better ourselves and you turn around and hand the job to someone straight out of college who will be too afraid to ask for payment for the contract?

NO MORE! If you have the experience and you know you are good at the job, stop belittling yourself. Say ‘No, I’m not working for it without a payment.’

I can preach as much as any other. I’ve worked for years for free but I’m refusing to do anymore unless it’s doing some work for friends or a charity. There is no point in just one or two of us doing this, we ALL have to say no more otherwise if I say no, companies will know they can move on to someone else who is desperate enough or rich enough to take the unpaid position. It’s an absolute disgrace!

Consider this a sort of informal media union, and they certainly won’t want a strike.

About the Author

Sue Murphy

  • http://twitter.com/ElleEmSee Laura C

    Well said. I genuinely don’t know how anyone could afford to do an internship nowadays and I applaud anyone with the guts to do it.

  • http://twitter.com/martynrosney Martyn Rosney

    Great piece Sue, the only part I would disagree with you on would be the merits of JobBridge. There is potential in it but the lack of real oversight leads to corruption.

    I truly feel your pain, here’s a piece I wrote on the topic two years ago when I was getting unpaid internship offers and was mad as hell too: http://bit.ly/PRUnpaidInternships I closed it with, “We are free to work, we will not work for free.”

  • http://www.lisamcinerney.com Lisa McInerney

    The most sinister aspect of the internship culture, in my mind, is the fact that it blatantly favours young workers whose parents can afford to support them through such schemes. It’s rife in media and it’s just as bad in the creative arts, where the freedom to create anything from a novel to a movie depends hugely on whether you can support yourself through the process – artists don’t get paid unless they’re already successful. 

    It means that a certain societal class ends up saturating media and art, two major areas where a broad workforce in terms of background and experience is absolutely necessary. It means that people with natural talent often don’t get a chance to do what they’re good at. And worst of all, it negates any culture of success coming from merit and passion, meaning that the end results will always be weaker.

    It’s ludicrous.

  • http://www.krank.ie/ Neil

    Great piece but: “The JobBridge initiative is a step in the right direction” Buh? JobBridge is a pisstake.

  • http://twitter.com/beatingblog Karen Mulreid

    The thing about the JobsBridge scheme that gets me is that they’re offering nine month internships to work in Spar. It’s a joke. No disrespect to anyone who works in Spar, I’ve worked in supermarkets myself. I was trained for two weekends in customer relations and how to use the till and cash up the money and then there was a bit of further training on the job for a few weeks after that. I did not need to be trained for nine months. That’s just ripping the piss big time. That’s just a company getting nine months of free work and then not offering a job at the end of it.

    A short amount of work experience, unpaid, in your chosen career is probably a rite of passage, we’ve all done it. But a very short time it should be. A few weeks at most. I personally did some college work experience in a newspaper and then was offered a junior position. I realise I was very lucky to get that. 

  • Sue

    I just got mad all over again reading your comments..  Unfortunately the fact that a lot of the time it depends on luck is disturbing.  Totally agree Lisa, there is an elite class in media and arts…

  • Jennifer_McShane

    Great article Sue, I know exactly how you feel. I worked solidly on unpaid internships for over a year and I’ve definitely had enough of them at this stage. I’ve enough experience where I now feel I’m in a position to say “if you want me, you can pay me!” but this is easier said then done at times.

    What annoys me the most is some companies acting like they’re doing you a massive favour by giving you the internship, when in reality it’s the opposite – you’re doing them the favour!!

  • Brianhc

    “I’ve worked for years for free” – who’s fault is this? The point is you get an internship for 6 months and then get paid work. If that statement is true then you seem to have made some pretty bad choices.
    I agree wholeheartedly with the rest of your sentiments, btw

  • Sue

    Unfortunately I’ve moved on from one thing to another always in the hope of receiving payment or at least a go at the job. Theres always a hope this will become full time work but you move on when evidently this is not going to happen. The only bad choice I’ve made is that I have conciously made an attempt to make the most of my life.

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