Internships: Building opportunities and skills for youth

ILO Washington Office Deputy Director Erick Zeballos speaks about the value of internships as well as the ILO position on intern exploitation on AlJazeera's "The Stream"

With youth unemployment recently reaching unprecedented levels—4 out of 10 young people are unemployed worldwide today—internships seem to have emerged as an alternative for young professionals looking for a first job opportunity.

The ILO has stressed the importance of comprehensive measures to improve and expand opportunities for unemployed youth by providing them with the skills, training and experience necessary to access a decent job. Internships can play an important and valuable role in aiding those who lack skills or experience to improve their chances of entering the job market.

As internships have become more common, so has the risk of abuse. There have been a growing number of voices claiming significant growth in the number of unpaid internships and unfair conditions.

On January 17, 2013, the AlJazeera Network’s program “The Stream” organized a panel to discuss internships and intern exploitation. Deputy Director of the ILO’s Washington Office, Erick Zeballos, participated in the panel and stressed the importance of internships and other work-experience schemes as critical tools to facilitate the transition of young professionals to the labour market. Click the video below to watch the program.

“If well designed internships may provide a range of skills that are often not learnt in college. They provide important networking opportunities and eventually may lead to a first job”, he underscored.

He also expressed ILO’s concerns over any practice that makes an inappropriate use of internships and that leads to exploitation, abuse and/or free labor.

“The use of young people for duties that do not involve a significant training component or that are normally performed by paid employees should be remunerated accordingly”, Zeballos emphasized.

U.S. law dictates that only under certain circumstances can a for-profit company acquire an unpaid intern; among them, that the company cannot have any direct benefit from the intern. Laws regarding public and non-profit entities allow for unpaid “volunteers”, but should still meet requirements set forth by the Department of Labor. For more information, see Fact sheet #71 regarding internships under the Fair Labor Standards Act.

The ILO encourages all member States to put legal safeguards against any form of exploitation of interns in place and recommends the adoption of good practices such as the recognition of incentives / bonuses for young people that need to travel or establish themselves in a different city or country.