We have seen a lot of publicity (not all of it wholly positive and with good reason) on the issue of internships in Ireland as the worst effects of the economic crisis were felt. Undoubtedly with EU youth unemployment above 20%, young people continue to face challenges, unforeseen even 10 years ago. The policy goal of job creation is vital and we need those jobs to be both secure and sustainable. Perhaps understandably then, the very idea of unpaid work has become associated with exploitation and an attempt to use the recession to promote undesirable employment practices.
At European Movement (EM) Ireland, it has been a tradition since the organisation’s foundation in 1954, that volunteering or doing a ‘stage’ (or traineeship) is part of what the organisation offers. The aim was and continues to be to provide a valuable and practical work placement opportunity for young talented Irish people with an interest in Irish and European affairs to learn on the job. This tradition continues until this day here at Ireland’s longest established Irish-European NGO. In fact, doing a quick tot-up, since I became Executive Director of EM Ireland in 2011, over 30 stagiaires have passed through our doors, staying for three to four months, and sometimes longer.
Are the opportunities we provide valuable? Of our Stagiaire Alumni, many now include officials working in the European Commission, staff members of MEPs’ office teams, journalists, policy researchers, assistants to Members of the Oireachtas, and even European Affairs Ministers here in Ireland! And we’re not the only ones. With over 50 young Irish people on average getting a stage in a variety of EU Institutions each year, as a country we continue to justify our strong professional reputation at an EU level. The gift of the gab does us no harm either, as our renowned networking skills is a highly prized ability.
In a post-Troika, post-bailout world, it’s easy to lose sight of some of the positive skills and attributes we Irish bring to the table. And not just with the standard of young professionals. While we have a small population that constitutes just 0.9% of the overall EU population, we have seen Irish people punch above their weight in Europe. Former European Parliament President, Pat Cox; current EU Ambassador to the USA, David O’Sullivan; and current Secretary General of the European Commission, Catherine Day, all reached the very top.
In 2009, EM Ireland first published our Green Book, a handy 30-page collection of useful tips and advice for aspiring internship and job applicants. From humble beginnings The Green Book, now in its ninth iteration, has grown to a 190-page bible on all things job and internship related for Irish applicants in Brussels and beyond. In the words of Catherine Day, “EM Ireland’s Green Book is the most useful guide you can have in this process”.
As EM Ireland reaches our 61st year, I’m proud to lead an organisation which continues to value this long established tradition of offering young people valuable, career-enhancing opportunities and we will continue to promote internships or stages as the most useful way to get a foot on the rung of the European career ladder.
Celebrating our 61st birthday yesterday, 11 January 2015, is a great opportunity to thank and pay tribute to the many stagiaires who have volunteered with us over the past six decades, ensuring that we continue to develop and grow the connection between Ireland and Europe.
This is the first edition of our new monthly blog, written by our Executive Director, Noelle O Connell. Read all Noelle’s blogposts here.