Month: November 2017

Internship: The I word

Internship: The I word

For some it means dirt cheap labour, for some, it means a chance to dump grunt work, for some, it means vital experience and for others still, it means outright sufferation, this is what the I word inspires whenever uttered. By I word of course I mean the word internship, both paid and unpaid internship, these are words that when spoken can illicit such fear and hope, such a lively and heated discussion comes forth whenever this phrase is spoken.This phrase has been in the Jamaican lexicon for some time, but with the recent utterances from the media (All Angles) coupled with the inevitable firestorm on social media, it has become a hot topic again.

In the end (from my point of view), the discussion has boiled down to the tired trope of ‘millennials are just a lazy lot who desire instant riches’ or ‘I did the same type of internship and am now a better person’. Now while that line of argument holds some (and it is very little) merit, it totally misses some of the rather important factors that the young have to deal with and as such rightfully in quite a few cases resent the intern position (especially the unpaid variety).

The truth is that while internship (of both varieties) carry many benefits, however a big issue with internship programs is that in many cases (maybe even the majority) it is selling a false bill of goods, and the false product is that of ‘work experience’. Now the idea of work experience sounds lovely, a potential lawyer shadowing an attorney and learning about the nitty-gritty of law, or a potential doctor shadowing a doctor and learning first hand about that field of medicine is a brilliant idea, that is until one takes on the intern role. One then realizes that one is not shadowing, not learning anything first hand, but instead delivering letters and messages, getting coffee and refreshments or if they are very lucky doing the menial data entry of figures. Now while that does have upsides such as the links built and the better connection with your superiors, it hardly furthers your knowledge of that field of work getting coffee and you gain no vital experience as the intern gets very little conversation/feedback time from the supervisor. Rather than work experience maybe a more appropriate term would be ‘Link building’ or ‘Network Enhancing’, for no real experience is gained from many of these posts.

Another issue with an internship is the vagueness that comes with the position as it relates to what area of work you will be in, how long will you be in that area of work and how many hours you will be working. I am not for a minute saying that having an internship that takes you all over the chosen field is bad, in fact, it is a good thing as it broadens one’s understanding of the field. But if employers refuse to (politely) advise prospective interns of the runnings (that they should expect any and everything), then they will always be faced with reasonable questions and grievances about why they are interning in this area of work, or if they will be getting paid for the overtime. To imply that the prospect will be shadowing in job X or work Y hours, then have them do job X-Z while working N hours is ungrateful or crass for making what amounts to a simple enquiry is insulting and especially hurting when one takes into account the intern took the job based on a lie of omission.

Remuneration is however probably the biggest sticking point when it comes to the institution that is internship and this is hardly surprising. With most of these intern positions primarily requiring some form of higher education and with the cost of higher education being so high (just have a look at the SLB rates), it is no wonder that prospective interns and current interns grumble about the rate (or lack thereof) remuneration. The popular retort is that ‘I the older person have done it’, or that ‘person X in your age group did it’, and while those statements may be true, the time has moved on and individual circumstances differ greatly. For the older persons, they need to understand that society has transformed greatly in the past 20-50 years and so has the community. The community for the most part in those days WAS the safety net. If a person in the community needed help and showed promise they could look forward to communal assistance in the form of; transportation fare, lunch (money or a meal) or lodging. Community assistance was forthcoming in those days, many a member of the financial elite received community helping hands and now that they are in the rarefied atmosphere of wealth and success they scoff at the youngsters and forget the helping hands they themselves received.

For heaven’s sake, if a recent graduate who either has SLB repayments or a family to take care of (siblings in school etc) is presented with the options of either (1) a six-month unpaid internship position, with the eventual prospect of a well-paid job, or (2) an immediate paying (albeit below one is overqualified and thus underpaid) and secure job, is it truly that much of a shock when they choose the immediate money? In those cases (which are the majority in my estimation) are they really looking for fast money or simply looking to survive? It seems to be the latter when I have a good hard look at it.

With the cost of education being so high, with the cost of living always increasing and with the community safety net gone, should it really come as a surprise if interns ask for remuneration that allows them to survive? Is it truly ‘above their station’ to insist that at some point someone gives them a helping hand? I do not believe so and quite frankly anyone who harbours wishes of this economic model working in Jamaica really needs to look at rectifying the internship programs around the nation.

Many of these ‘issues’ could be avoided if a proper system of internship were to be implemented at the high school level, say during grades 11-13. I make this suggestion for two reasons (1) At that age, they are still wards and therefore would have their major expenses covered by either their parents or the state (if they are PATH recipients) and as such wouldn’t require payment, simply a stipend for transportation and food, and (2) Most graduates already have some idea of what it is they want to do and as such feel offended and resent the constant ‘chopping and changing’ of areas of work while interning, whereas those still in high school generally tend to still be in the decision making process and as such would benefit more from gaining knowledge of the industry from as many vantages as possible.

An internship has many benefits and advantages and I am not sure that I know anyone who understands how the economic system operates who is anti-internship. The links, the subtle nuances you pick up on, the lexicon and all the other tricks of the trade are gained by going through a quality intern program. However, to say that those who have grievances are ungrateful etc is pointless as this in fact only serves to alienate future prospects. Respect, decent remuneration and some actual knowledge of the field is what the call essentially boils down to, and when one really looks at it the call truly isn’t an unreasonable one.