» Posts tagged: ‘UN


Stuck as intern. Internships used to be a stepping stone towards paid jobs, but the number of professional interns is growing.

A six week, unpaid internship at the United Nations (UN) offices in New York, which was mistakenly put up for auction in late April 2013, sparked debate about the class-based privileges underpinning such internships, after a college student bid US$ 22,000 at this ‘unique’ opportunity. As Al Jazeera noted in an opinion piece, not only do unpaid internships privilege more affluent youth who can afford to “invest in themselves” through unpaid work, the broader message in this case seems to be that “work is not labour to be compensated with a living wage, but an act of charity of the powerful, who reward the unpaid worker with ‘exposure’ and ‘experience’.”

Unpaid internships

Amidst high global youth unemployment levels and an ongoing economic downturn, internships and apprenticeships have become an increasingly familiar experience among young graduates in Europe, the United States and other industrialised countries. Ideally, internships and other work experience programmes are designed to equip young people with on-the-job training, useful contacts, and valuable work experience. But what is the value of these internships in an increasingly competitive labour market?

For some graduates, internships have been a way out of a common ‘Catch 22’ situation that many young jobseekers find themselves in: they cannot gain work experience because they have not landed their first job, and they cannot find their first job because they do not have sufficient work experience (ILO 2012) .

Professional interns

But while internships could increase young people’s chances of getting a job offer, some recent reports and news articles point to drawbacks associated with contemporary internship practices. First, there is the issue of low-paid or unpaid internships, and second, the phenomenon of “professional interns”: young graduates who experience a continuous cycle of internships and are unable to move into more stable and better paid work.

A recent article highlights this phenomenon of ‘professional interns: graduates in their late twenties, often with debts from university but without a decent income or clear career prospects, for whom internships seem to resemble an ‘employment trap’. While the phenomenon of professional interns may indicate a mismatch between youth aspirations and actual labour market realities, there are also concerns that companies use interns as cheap labour, without providing them with proper training, guidance and income.

Contemporary education and labour policies, often informed by a neoliberal logic, hold individual youth and their families responsible to invest in education and training in order to improve their ‘employability’ in the job market. The rise in internships reflects these broader changes in the global economy and the nature of work. For many students, the pressure to find an internship is part of their education experience. Their ability to find internships and jobs is often explained in terms of merit and personal efforts, rather than an outcome of broader socio-economic conditions. But the popularity of internships should not mask the fact that a huge number of jobs needs to be created in the next decade to provide enough employment for the growing population of educated youth. Internships are not an alternative for decent jobs.

So what will happen once the economy recovers: will these professional interns be able to move into more stable employment, or will they be replaced by the next group of fresh university graduates?


Guest contribution by Suzanne Naafs. Suzanne Naafs is a postdoctoral fellow at the Asia Research Institute, National University of Singapore, where she is conducting research on youth and educated underemployment in Indonesia. She completed her PhD at the Institute of Social Studies, The Hague in 2012 with a dissertation on youth, gender and aspirations for work in urban Java.


posted by Roy Huijsmans

What does the new (2013) Human Development Report The Rise of the South: Human progress in a diverse world have to say about youth?

A simple word search gives some impression. The term ‘youth’ appears 26 times in the over 200 pages. ‘Youth’ appears 12 times in either the bibliography or annexes. Here are the remaining 14 ‘in-text’ appearances:

*no page number: ‘National HDRs have covered many key development issues, from climate change to youth employment to inequalities driven by gender or ethnicity’

*p. iv: ‘The 2013 Report identifies four specific areas of focus for sustaining development momentum: enhancing equity, including on the gender dimension; enabling greater voice and participation of citizens, including youth; confronting environmental pressures; and man-aging demographic change.’

*p.15: ‘If enough decent jobs are not available to meet this demographic demand, the consequences are likely to include rising civil unrest, as demonstrated by the youth-led insurrections of the Arab Spring.’

*p.91: ‘Democracies can also extend accountability from what is often a narrow constituency of elites to all citizens, particularly those who have been underrepresented in public discourse, such as women, youth and the poor.’

*p.91: ‘Among the most active protesters are youth, in part a response to job shortages and limited employment opportunities for educated young people.’

*p.91: ‘In a sample of 48 countries, youth unemployment was more than 20% in 2011, well above the 9.6% overall rate.’

*p.91: ‘Youth discontent in response to rising unemployment is even more likely in areas with an educated population.’

*p.91: ‘But unless governments give greater priority to job creation, they are likely to face increasing youth dissatisfaction as education coverage expands’

*p.98: ‘Reinforcing the cross-country analysis conducted for this Report, a recent study finds that youth dependency ratios tend to be higher for poor households and lower for wealthier ones, especially in Latin America and Sub-Saharan Africa, and that differences in youth dependency ratios between rich and poor dissipate over time.’

*p.100 (textbox): In 1970, youth constituted the largest share of China’s population, resulting in a high dependency ratio of 0.770, with 1.08 boys for each girl among infants ages 0–4′

*p.100 (textbox): ‘As fertility rates fell, the share of the working-age population rose faster than the share of the youth population, lowering the dependency ratio to 0.382.’

*p.100 (textbox): ‘The youth population, though smaller than in 1970, remained large, and the dependency ratio was still high, at 0.736.’

*p.100 (textbox): ‘Under the fast track scenario, the demographic outlook would change considerably as falling fertility rates lower the dependency ratio to 0.532, mainly because of the decrease of the youth as a share of Ghana’s total population.’



International Institute of Social Studies

ISS is an international graduate school of policy-oriented critical social science. It brings together students and teachers from the Global South and the North in a European environment.