First Steps: Walking the same path as JobBridge

Caoimhe Rooney

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In 2011, the Government revealed the JobBridge scheme. The internship program was aimed at the unemployed, and was initially meant to connect employers with trainees who wished to acquire new skills in a certain field. At the time,  Minister for Social Protection, Joan Burton, said the scheme’s main goal was to, “assist in breaking the cycle where jobseekers are unable to get a job without experience, either as new entrants to the labour market after education or training or as unemployed workers wishing to learn new skills.”

Since then, the program has come under considerable controversy and its name has now become synonymous with exploitative labour. An intern in the program is given €50 per week on top of their weekly unemployment benefits while often working full-time for an employer. Although the Government have insisted that many interns eventually got full-time employment from the employers, many have criticised the program saying it has prevented real job creation. As recently as January, serious flaws were being revealed within the program.

Interns have been working full-time for €50 a week. Image credit: Adam Fagen (Flickr)
Interns have been working full-time for €50 a week. Image credit: Adam Fagen (Flickr)

And now, in 2015 the Government are doing it again. On February 5th, Joan Burton, announced a new JobBridge-esque scheme. This time, the scheme will be called ‘First Steps’. Jobseekers aged 18-25 are the target, and its aim sounds rather familiar: “The objective of First Steps is to provide participants with an opportunity to learn and develop basic work and social skills while on a placement in a real work situation in organisations in the private, public, voluntary and community sectors.”

Despite the controversy surrounding JobBridge, the Government have decided to try a reincarnation of the scheme for young people. Each placement will last for six or nine months, again with the €50 bonus payment on top of the already-existing unemployment benefits.

People “employed” in both programs are not counted in the official unemployment figures, a great thing for a struggling government who are set to face a General Election in the next 14 months.

Unsurprisingly, many are unimpressed with the announcement:

The Anti-Austerity Alliance have come out against the scheme stating, “The JobBridge scheme has been shown to be exploitative, is being used by employers as a source of free labour and in cases is acting as a block on paid employment for people. This new scheme is almost identical in terms of the top-up payment and duration.”

The party insists that the Government is continuing to give, “tax-payer funded hand-outs to business”, and will only serve to exacerbate the problem of unemployment by preventing real job creation.

However, JobBridge does have its supporters and some would say rightly so. Indeed, an independent report conducted by Indecon in 2013 showed the positive results of the scheme and these should not be ignored. There are currently over 360,000 people in Ireland seeking employment, and although internships will not cure the problem it will help the unemployment statistics look a little bit healthier.

Results of JobBridge Scheme 2013 Image Credit: welfare.ie
Results of JobBridge Scheme 2013
Image Credit: Indecon JobBridge Report

 

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Caoimhe Rooney