If JobBridge is a success, then what is a failure?

Yesterday, Joan Burton declared JobBridge a roaring success based on the fact that 797 people of the 6,840 who have started internships under the scheme have managed to find jobs. This figure is misleading, however, because it includes people who got positions with companies they weren’t doing their internship with.

Their current job may have little or nothing to do with their internship. And even putting that aside, you’d think this was a rather modest conversion rate after what was in effect a six to nine month interview. I began a JobBridge internship, myself, as a journalist with Changing Ireland last October. I knew that it was unlikely to be converted into a permanent position as the magazine is publicly funded. But I had been unemployed for several months up to that point and any gaps in a journalist’s CV can be fatal.


My experience with Changing Ireland was pleasant and I got on with my workmates. But do I think it has made me any more likely to get a permanent position somewhere? Currently, there are 55 positions in the JobBridge database for Arts/Design/Media and hundreds more have been offered since the scheme started. Paid jobs in the industry, however, are hard to come by.

With any job search, you usually find job advertisements coming with the dreaded footnote “This is an unpaid position that should be used to build your portfolio.” Such is the lack of opportunities available competition for Jobbridge places is actually high. I applied for over a dozen positions and qualified to be interviewed for less than half before being finally accepted by Changing Ireland.

Some of the organisations emailed me back to tell me that I didn’t have enough experience (Is that not the purpose of an internship?). In my opinion, the internship scheme has served to further depress the jobs market. I mean, if you were an employer and you could get someone to do a job for free rather than pay them, wouldn’t you? It also encourages employers to offer much lower rates of pay for full-time jobs than in the past.

They can use the fact that people are willing to do such work for free as a stick to beat applicants who are now faced with impossible negotiation positions. It is hard to see how this is good for the economy. If somebody is paid less, they will spend less on goods and services, which negatively affects our VAT take. Media and the Arts are far from the only areas where this depression is being aided.

The nature of JobBridge is that almost any company in any industry is eligible for this exploitation. In September 2011, for instance, Tesco advertised on Jobbridge for 218 ‘customer assistant’ internships in 17 different stores for the busy Christmas period. The description reads: “The intern will gain practical experience in retail excellence in an exciting and fast moving environment…and will gain skills such as rotation of stock, customer service skills, management of waste and damages, merchandising to plans routines.”

Tesco posted a before-tax profit of €3.8bn in the year to February 2011, and the company’s Irish stores have the second highest profit margin of any Tescos in the world. They must have seen JobBridge as a way to push this margin up further by not hiring their usual temporary staff. It would have saved them roughly €1.5m in wages. The interns would have earned roughly €1.40 an hour on top of their social welfare payment. And it would have cost the taxpayer an extra €261,600 for the supplementary income payments (€50 per week) because hosting organisations don’t even have to pay that.

It was highly unethical, but what do you expect from a company who had to pay damages this year for unfairly dismissing a HIV positive employee? There was a modicum of controversy about the Tesco postings at the time, which led to them being pulled. But if you visit JobBridge.ie today, you will still see various positions such as retail shop assistant, canteen assistant, cleaner and sales assistant.

These are the kind of occupations that haven’t traditionally required nine month’s interning to master. They are minimum wage positions that many people have relied upon in order to survive with a decent standard of living. Instead of helping the vulnerable, JobBridge has forced them into a situation of being practically indentured slaves.

The unemployment rate in June 2011, when the scheme started, was 14.2%. In March 2012, it was 14.3%. The economy contracted in the last two quarters of 2011 too. Can you blame this on Jobbridge? No. But it stands as a symbol of the Government’s lack of imagination in dragging this country out of crisis. {jathumbnailoff}

Update (16.06): This article originally stated, erroneously, that JobBridge was launched in May 2011. The scheme was launched on 29 June 2011, and the text has been amended to reflect this.