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The Internship, a French fool’s game

As “Elle”, the famous French magazine, just put online an ad looking for a stagiaire (an intern in French), the overall scandal of internships in France buzzes all over the Net again. Indeed, offering an internship looking for somebody that “already has a job experience” and a graduate level is quite questionable, as it seems to be a way for the company to acquire talent without payig for it.

France in 2013 is not an exceptionnally nice sight when it comes to the employment market. With what appears to be a structural unemployment rate over 10% of the active population, one can easily imagine how hard it is to find a job here. But it’s harder to imagine that it is even possible to find a job when you’re under 25 yo and you’re dealing with a 26.2% unemployment (in Jan. 2013, source OECD). Especially when everybody has some kind of a high level of education ( nowadays over 80% of a generation has its Baccalaureat, the entrance gate to a university level). So in such a tense job market, it is very easy for companies to abuse applicants.

Le Stage (the internship) is definitely the most traditional way to enjoy cheap quality workforce. In some kind of a fairy tale way, it’s sold to the candidates like a way to keep on learning in the company, to have skills passed on from an older generation of workers to a younger crowd, just like a mediaeval craftman would pass his life-long tested secrets to his apprentice. It’s even often sold as a pre-hiring system. But in reality, it’s really a way for companies to fulfil positions without paying for them. An army of interns will answer the phone, prepare documents, and even sometimes occupy strategic positions for nothing or close (436€ in 2013, nothing if the internship is less than 2 month).

It’s true, since 2009, there was so much abuses that a few laws where passed. Now a “stage” cannot exceed 6 months (12 if you are in a business or engeneering school), and as previously said, you must pay the intern if he/she stays more than 2 months. But in the facts, the abuses carry on.

First of all, an internship is being passed on from one intern to the next. That translates into the fact that in the end, the internship really fits in a full-time position in the company, but with a wage of 436€ (or even 0€ if you want to change your intern every 2 months!) And the beauty of it is that these interns are bringing in fresh thoughts in the company for nothing. Why hiring a copywriter or a an assistant when you can find cheap, knowledgeable, creative individuals to do it in an internship? Of course, you might have to drive them a little bit… Well, no you don’t! Because it’s not necessarily their first internship! Schools push internships also, and you have on the market kids that have done 3, 5, 10 different interships… Exactly what Elle Magazine is looking for. Exactly what everybody else is looking for. An efficient coworker that you can pay with beads…

Of course, you will hear a lot of people saying that an intership is a good way to discover the corporate world, and get information to better chose a carreer. But let’s be frank, in a country where you are asked to chose what you want to be at 14yo and that has 26% unemployment, there is not much choice in what you will end up working in, and discovering the corporate world is to paying the rent what eating brioche is to eating baguette.

You might also hear smaller businesses, or firms with a sketchy business model (like newspapers for instance) claim that they could not make it without the “stages”. Well, I guess you would have heard these kinds of reasonning a lot also in Georgia after the Civil War. It’s true, having to pay workers is a threat to a company’s profit. But it is necessary for a peaceful society.

Today, a majority of young adults don’t make it. They have internships, part-time jobs, and live at their parents until their mid-thirties. This is not good. And the “Stage”, by eating out real jobs, by selecting educated individuals to fit them in unpaid full-time positions, is aggravating the situation (but hiding part of the unemployement statistics, since interns are not counted as unemployed people…)

In 2005, an intern started a movement to fight against internships, by demostrated with white masks. This movement allowed the law to change, and to force companies to at least pay a little bit the interns.

It is the reason why the state must go further and simply end the possibility of internships. There is no more need for it, as in order to discover the company world you have the “alternance” (a 2/3 days per week internship while you study the rest of the week), and all of the internships on the market are only used to fill in real full-time positions.

If Elle, or any other magazine, want cool people to work with, they can simply hire them. And there’s a whole lot of them that are out there waiting… But this masquerade of organized slavery, in a country where working has slowly turned to be a priviledge, is to be actively fought against.