» Posts tagged: ‘work


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

Surveys among Dutch school-going teenagers (12-18 years) have long shown that combining full time education with part-time work is for many Dutch teenagers the norm.

The Dutch Central Office for Statistics (CBS) has now released findings concerning school-going youth (15-25 years), showing similar patterns. Between 2001 and 2011 the school-going population aged 15-25 has grown from 1.2 million to 1.5 million. In 2001 62% of the school-going youth were in paid work for at least 1 hour per week. In 2011 this has dropped to 57%. Interestingly, the decrease is found among school-going youth who were working 1-12 hours per week (from 37% of the school-going youth in 2001 to 33% in 2011) and among those working more than 35 hours per week (from 9% down to 6%). Between 2001 and 2011 the shares have actually slightly increased for school-going youth working 12-20 hours per week (up from 9 to 10%) and those working 20-35 hours per week (up from 8 to 9%).

It is further worth noting that between 2001 and 2011 a shift can be observed from the majority of school-going youth employed on the basis of ‘permanent contracts’ (2001) to the majority of youth employed on the basis of flexible arrangements (2011). Self-employment has grown among school-going youth but remains very small.

posted by Roy Huijsmans

Despite all the concern about youth unemployment in the Netherlands, a probable mass lay-off of young part-time workers by a major Dutch retailer is met with silence.

Part-time employment during term-time is widespread among Dutch school-going teenagers. A NIBUD report found that 42% of the Dutch school-going teenagers in the age group 12-18 worked during term-time. However, this figure has come down from 48% in 2008, which NIBUD suggests is due to the Global financial and economic crisis which seems to be affecting employment opportunities for teenagers too.

Working in a supermarket is the third most common job, 7% of the Dutch school-going youth aged 12-18 is involved in this work (after baby-sitting (10%) and newspaper rounds (13%)). However, supermarkets typically only employ teenagers of at least 15 years of age (although employment is technically permitted under certain conditions from age 14 onwards), which means that the overall ranking of supermarket employment among Dutch teenagers is kept down due to child labour regulations. This is illustrated by looking at age-disaggregated figures. Among the 15 and 16 year olds, 14% is working in supermarkets, and among 17 and 18 years olds this is 23%.

One of the largest retailers, Albert Heijn, has a market share of about 30% in the Netherlands and is a major employer of Dutch teenagers. The majority of these teenagers work on a part-time basis as shelf-stockers and it is their jobs that are at risk following the announcement of Albert Heijn to introduce ‘shelf ready packaging‘ as a measure to cut costs and increase revenue.

Interestingly, the discussion about these plans have hardly addressed the labour dimension and Dutch labour unions, who are usually quick to jump on cases of mass redundancy, have met this case with massive silence. How shall this be understood? As a missed opportunity on part of the unions to demonstrate their lasting relevance to a new generation of workers? Or, as a confirmation that Dutch unions appear far more concerned with keeping youngsters from working than protecting their employment?

posted by Roy Huijsmans

Some days ago the Lao B-Boy group Lao Bangfai posted a strong statement on their Facebook page (for an earlier post see on Lao Bangfai go HERE). Their message is straight forward. They are happy that they often asked to perform on all sorts of occasions, yet, they are annoyed with constant requests to put on such shows for free or for a much lower fee than their usual one.

In their words:

Of course you would prefer us to dance for free, and WE don’t dance for the money, but who pays our bills? Who pays our food and water while we are training for your event? We have a studio that we rent, just like you rent your house.’

To be sure, Lao Bangfai does not always charge fees (e.g. exceptions may be made for charity  related events) and it is particularly when their involvement is sought by commercial parties that complaints about fees annoys them:

‘You know yourself (Organizers and Promoters) that Laobangfai can attract more people to your event than any other local artist (no disrespect but it has been the case in all past events). So please respect our service fees, think before commenting and complaining.’

The artistic value of Lao Bangfai is recognised across the globe as their long list of awards and prizes indicates, so why then is it not recognised as a form of ‘work’ and properly rewarded? Their may be two issues at stake here. First, is the work of art, which b-dance is, which is too often not recognised as a form of labour. It may be viewed as an unproductive activity, a form of leisure rather than labour, etc.  Second, this artistic labour is done by young people who present themselves as youth. Diane Elson observed in an article way back in 1982 that due to the ‘seniority system’ it is extremely difficult for children, and to some extent for youth too (!), to achieve ‘full recognition [by adults] in monetary terms for the skills they possess and the contributions they make’ (p. 493). This appears to hold for Lao Bangfai too and is further complicated by the fact that their artistic work is seldom given due recognition as a form of labour.

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