Internships and short-term positions forever?

Marian Cramers (Belgium)Marian Cramers (28, Belgium)

I am an internal European migrant, landed in the London technology hub several years ago, and I experience first hand what the economic holy grail of ‘innovation’ looks like in reality. A bumpy ride, and rarely so for lack of good ideas.

Young people lead the restless digital miracles that enrich all our lives today, and are featured on the covers and talking point of all leading news outlets. Studies have shown that should hardly be surprising – the sweet spot where limitless creativity meets sufficient knowledge and experience tends to occur at around 28 years of age. This is when most groundbreaking ideas were born, also long before the age of the Internet.

However, where are young Europeans today at 28? Some are working and starting a family of their own, or writing PhDs, or testing the waters as a freelancer. Some are NEETs. But many of the most ambitious and worldly ones amongst them are likely to be in an internship or a short term-position at their ship of dreams, or thereabouts.

These internships have an aspirational ring to them, but very often end up being perceived as a necessary evil to enter the job market and build the CV and network that could produce a full-time position. One internship becomes 3 or 4, fiercely competing with other candidates, and whether the impressive list of hosts invariably leads to an otherwise unobtainable permanent position is another story.

My main concern however, is that this routine within the concrete walls of existing institutions and corporations systematically stifles ambition to innovate and think outside the box. The uncertainty of a temporary position and the view from the bottom of a ladder form a potent combination to teach twenty-somethings to be risk-averse and conservative. Make those unpaid internships, and you will also forever instil a debt-and-dependence thinking into the minds of our best and brightest. (Generally, the only risk young Europeans in my surroundings are still willing to take, is to leave Europe.)

Too often, the internships are presented as the only solution to generate diverse experience for starters. They are not, and the EU could be instrumental in designing the alternatives. It could for example build satellites of young Europeans around corporations, with structural and organisational support from both these corporations and the EU, and a clear mandate to work on societal and business needs. The experience and recruitment opportunities would remain, but in a format that allows them to savour all the complexities of our integrated economies, without being forced into the mould of past mistakes. This could also be a cooperation between the public and private sector that is truly pro-active and forward-looking, preserving the stability of our existing structures without breaking the flight of the youngest workforce.

There is a natural partnership to be found between young people and the EU. Both parties are eager to kindle a freedom of movement and thought while preserving what this continent has accomplished already. “Move fast and break things’ is Mark Zuckerberg’s motto, but it is not ours. Instead, The European Union could align its needs with those of its young and active citizens, and find that they are much the same already.