Nicholas Wenzel, Pierre-Julien Bosser and Régis Pradal, co-founders of the organisation InternsGoPro spoke to Impact News about their vision to protect students from wasting their time on dodgy internships. Based in Brussels, their organisation hopes to establish a European movement for promoting change in the interning industry, looking to major legislative bodies to prevent exploitation of students. The co-founders spoke to Impact about their motivations, the protest in July 2013 and what the future holds for InternsGoPro.
Firstly why did you decide to set up InternsGoPro?
Young people enter the labour market in Europe and they are not directly hired. They are offered low-paid internships with no learning prospects and that’s a problem. We are trying to improve the situation by creating a movement which promotes high quality internships: these are internships that truly increase your employability and allow you to build up skills, knowledge and expertise that will help you to find a job later on.
Previously students accepted to do unpaid internships in return for experience with a high learning content in order to improve their employability, but interns are more and more seen as a cheap labour force that can be exploited.
“interns are more and more seen as a cheap labour force that can be exploited”
So what we want to do is create a movement which incentivises employers to offer high quality internships. We want to give students more information about an offered internship before they make the decision to accept or reject an internship. With students being able to see the ratings for the job and the employer, they can then make the decision as to whether this is the best internship for them, and whether it would improve their employability.
We want to create a movement, a crowd, a hype – we want to generate a high number of people who rate the internships that they have done so that other future interns can see the ratings and then add more information on the quality of the internship, employment opportunities and learning content and so on.
How does the ratings system work?
The information from the ratings is automatically put together through our smart computer system and transformed into graphics and statistics. On the website you will soon see the number of people who have rated their internships, plus the names of the employers that have been rated already. Then we will properly publish them once we have a sufficient number – the aim is a few thousand ratings.
So if any student has done an internship, rate it at http://internsgopro.com/rate-your-internships/.
Can you tell us about the protest organised on 17th July 2013 in Brussels?
Brussels is sort of an ‘interns capital’, so we started monitoring what kind of initiatives were being implemented there. We found out that a group of interns were organising a protest against internships. They wanted to raise awareness so they contacted us at the same time that we were trying to set up our initiative. We ending up co-organising the protest with them and publicised it through Facebook.
The protest was referred to as the ‘sandwich protest’ because it took place at lunch-time and also as interns can usually only afford to buy a sandwich for their lunch.
Although 500 people were registered as attending for the protest, about 250 people actually went. This was a good achievement given that we only organised the protest in a month and as we are simple guys with no resources and no organisational status.
When is the next InternsGoPro protest going to take place?
Either in November or early 2014. It depends on how we can maximise impact as well as the contacts and partnerships that we make because we would like to set up another protest to take place simultaneously in 3 or 4 different capitals.
This is why we are currently trying to establish partnerships with European NGOs and civil society organisations that are interested in the internship issue. In terms of the UK, we are looking to collaborate with the organisation, Interns Aware. We are also in contact with an Italian organisation called the Repubblica degli stagisti (The Interns Republic) and the Youth Intergroup in the European Parliament. Although our main “supporter” for the next protest will be the European Youth Forum.
We also would like to carry out the next protest once the European Commission has given its recommendations to the Council of the European Union in order to ensure maximum impact.
What are your exact demands for internships at this stage?
The type of demands will depend on what recommendations are given by the European Commission.
We obviously have specific points that are of particular importance to us, but we are still at the initial stages of defining concretely what these are.
There is a European Quality Charter on Internships and Apprenticeships but its contents are not legally binding and so we want this Charter to be made into law. (The Charter is available at http://qualityinternships.eu/)
Ultimately our main goal is to stop abusive internships, i.e. to stop the obvious exploitation of graduates. Our idea is to say that internships should help you to get a job – an internship is good as long as it is a vehicle to learn skills that you need to get a paid job.
“our main goal is to stop abusive internships”
Is encouraging employers to pay interns therefore a core part of the InternsGoPro movement?
It comes down to the question of what is a high quality internship? Income is an important feature of a high quality internship and as such InternsGoPro are of course against unpaid internships. Every internship should provide some form of remuneration, whether it is a wage, food, transportation or an accommodation allowance. This ensures equity of access for everyone regardless of economic background. It is really for us a question of social justice.
However, it could also be argued that the main objective of an internship is to improve your employability. Income is then perhaps not so important. In our online ratings, income is a quality criteria, although it is not the most prominent. This decision was made in order to allow everyone to choose the quality internship that corresponds to their needs – it is true that some people are simply looking for a well-paid internship but others are simply looking for one with a high-learning content. We don’t want take a position on what people should look for, we just want to inform them about internships so that they can make the best career decisions for them.
So income is obviously an important element and we do want to promote higher wages for interns but nonetheless it is not at the core of our idea of improving employability.
We want to shift the information symmetry and power balance within the job market to be more in favour of interns. This is why we want to produce significant information on an employer.
This will create a game changer: employers will be publically accountable for the internships that they offer.
Any final remarks?
The whole idea behind InternsGoPro is that protesting is important, but not sufficient. This is why we also want to rate internships so that we can collect data. It is then easier to make very precise requests to employers, to the European Union institutions and to member state governments. Through these ratings we can also get a real snapshot of the situation.
If we do this in a clever way then we are going to start having employers reacting to this. Some employers want to invest in youth. They can attract talented people by doing so and find a match, which should push the legislation forwards.
We also want the views of students. This is a collaborative project. The point is that we want to push for what young people need and want.
As Impact News thanked Nicholas, Pierre-Julien and Régis for taking the time to talk to us, the co-founders reiterated that they are looking for ambassadors, volunteers, academic and general partnerships, so if you would like to support and participate in the movement and/or offer the organisation any recommendations, you can email the co-founders at firstname.lastname@example.org. In particular they are looking to establish a blog on the website so if any University of Nottingham students would be interested in writing on this, they should also get in contact.
Emily Tripp and Kateryna Rolle