Paid internships for a better working life

Internships have an important role in the student growing and developing necessary skills for the working life. Internships support the students’ future work connections, develop their skills and increase their understanding of working life. Studies alone do not always qualify for a profession, and an internship may be the student’s introduction to work in their own field. In this way, it is also a significant factor in promoting employment.

However, internship practices vary between universities and fields, which puts students in an unequal position, both when it comes to their studies and to them transitioning from their studies to working life. Inequality is caused by, among other things, availability of internships and internship grants, compensation practices and recognising work as a part of studies.

According to the barometer of student internships (Opiskelijoiden harjoittelubarometri, 2019), internships in some fields are hard to find, and the competition is tough. Things do not seem to be improving, as the number of jobs and internships has been going down since spring. There have been signs of this also in the Aarresaari network common to all universities: compared to last year, it received around half as many jobs, internships and thesis jobs at the end of this spring.

The barometer of student internships shows that the compensation or credits received for the internship do not, in reality, match the value of the work or the difficulty of the internship. Differences between fields are also notable: for instance, paid interships constitute 87 % of technology internships; in education, the figure is merely 8 %. Additionally, differences within fields are dictated by faculty and subject. This is partly due to internship grants, which the student applies for to be granted to the employer. It is used to compensate for a part of the expenses the employer has to pay for hiring the student. In some internships, applicants who have received the internship grant are given priority. However, not everyone receives the internship grant, which puts some students at a disadvantage. This is a particular problem now when the number of available internships is at an all time low.

Unpaid internships do not promote justice in working life. All internships should therefore be paid internships. In any job or internship, the student brings the most recent research data and fresh ideas to the table, which benefits the entire work community. The student is part of the work community and contributes to the work, therefore they are just as entitled to getting paid for their work as anyone else. Apart from getting paid, students need to be clearly informed of the internship objectives, be given feedback on and receive guidance all through their internships to support their learning. The student learns about the new job during the internship, and they need as much help and support as any new employee.

It is common that students work during their studies. The farther along in their studies the student is, the more likely it is that they are working while studying. However, even if their job relates to their studies, what they learn in their job is not often taken into account in their studies. Internships have an important role in developing skills in preparation for working life, but being in the workforce will develop these skills just as well. Not all fields include a mandatory internship as part of the studies. Many a student nonetheless has a job linked to their field of study.

In Finland, transitioning to working life after graduation is fluent thanks to the work experience students have accumulated during their studies. Work experience should therefore be better accounted for despite the field. Equal work deserves equal pay, whether for internships, work or studies.

Johanna Pohjonen

SYL Vice President


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