Being in the last year of my bachelor, I go through a minor mental breakdown over my future and my position in the labour market once or twice a week. Of course, I still have 35 years to earn enough money to pay off my student debt, but I have bills to pay and cats to feed and I’d like to earn sufficient money to do that. And so, in the spirit of the education profile and the T-shaped professional, I decided to increase my chances by doing an internship.
Internships are a much-used and praised medium for gaining experience during your education. These expectations make internships feel like an opportunity one should be very grateful for. Sadly, this also gives companies the opportunity to take advantage of the free labour that interns offer, since interns often feel like they don’t have a choice. I too spent my first weeks desperate to please my supervisors. However, the dynamic changed when I realized that I was actually delivering free results and that it was okay to ask something back, like extra explanations on topics of my interest.
Sadly, many students are not in the position to demand a certain level of quality of their internships. This is because they can easily be replaced by other desperate students. This issue even goes beyond the Dutch borders. Italian students recently protested against exploitation during work experience, demanding laws that ensure real experience and quality for all. They took it to the streets and even threw paint, eggs and rotten tomatoes. And rightfully so! Companies should be grateful for free labour and they should feel responsible for providing real value for their interns. It’s about time we stand up for ourselves.