JobBridge to nowhere obvious.

By Kevin Callinan.

The JobBridge internship scheme in the education sector is disguising the impact of the recruitment embargo, at times displacing jobs, and providing some interns with a low-quality experience, according to recent research  sponsored by the IMPACT Education Division. It confirms trade union members’ sense of the improper use of the scheme within the sector.  We offer constructive proposals  for better and targeted labour activation internship schemes that are fit for purpose in a recovering economy.

Open-market active-labour-market programmes are always open to displacement of entry-level jobs and to deadweight. The 2013 Indecon evaluation of JobBridge suggests 29% displacement of entry-level jobs. It suggests up to 48% deadweight, where the progression outcomes associated with the scheme were as likely to occur without the scheme. While JobBridge has benefited many, this is a high price to pay and there are serious questions about whether the price it too high in terms of entry-level job displacement and value for money.

Labour activation measures need to be constantly adapted to reflect changing realities. JobBridge was established in the context of high employment and emigration in 2011. Renewed economic growth means displacement and deadweight are more likely. This necessitates a refocusing, resizing and ultimately a restriction of the use of such internships. Any justification for JobBridge as an emergency measure has dissipated. It is now time to take stock and address the gaps in regulation, monitoring and quality.

The research recommends restricting the number of places available, reserving them for people who need them most , and restricting embargoed public-sector employers and low-value-sector employers from participating. Everyone who takes up an internship programme must be entitled to a quality experience which offers training and mentoring opportunities, career progression pathways, social insurance cover and fair reimbursement. Take up should always be voluntary.

The growing culture of open-market internships as a pervasive feature of our economy needs to be stemmed. Overuse and misuse of internships must not be allowed to displace or replace full-time paid employment, or drive down basic terms and conditions for workers. The research notes that, internationally, some limited progress has been made in rolling back a pervasive culture of using such internships. This was achieved by  constant and proactive monitoring and enforcement of minimum wage laws.

Low Pay Commissions, internationally, have played a monitoring and preventative role in relation to use of internships in high-risk sectors such as fashion, entertainment and media industries. The British Low Pay Commission for example proactively targets online job advertisements for interns, ensures statutory officials provide adequate and clear information brochures and posters to alert employers about National Minumum Wage obligations, and encourages enforcement, including naming and shaming as well as back dating pay awards. While bad practice should be named and shamed it is also necessary to support good employers by acknowledging them through kite marks and allowing them be distinguished from the bad press associated with JobBridge.

The leadership of the trade union movement is vital. All unions, throughout ICTU, need to rise to the challenge of the wider regulation of internships, stamping out the culture of unpaid work as the entry route to paid employment in Ireland, and playing an oversight role in the use of internship as labour activation programmes. Professional associations can also play a monitoring role in regulating internships in specific industries.

A national governance framework would enable collaboration across the full range of these actors, including Solas for youth apprenticeships and traineeships, the HEA for graduate internships, the Department of Social Protection for the long term unemployed, and the Low Pay Commission for open market internships. This framework needs to address the weak culture of programme evaluation in Ireland and adopt robust evaluation processes using control groups.

It should make more effective use of gender-segregated administrative data systems to monitor longitudinal outcomes across a range of social, economic and communit- level outcomes. Recent moves to publish the numbers participating in labour market programmes in the CSO live register reports offer greater transparency and accountability.

The numbers being sanctioned and reasons for sanctions should also be published in this manner. •