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    Posted September 28, 2011 by
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    Brussels, The City of Interns


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    Brussels, the City of Interns


    The young people of Europe are the internship generation


    The internship  generation of Europe




    Driving a nice company car and living in a good area of Brussels, Belgium, Denisa is a successful young woman. Originally from Romania, the 26 year old is amazed by how much things have changed for her in the two years since she has been living in Brussels.

    Denisa moved from Bucharest to Brussels to work for a European event for young journalists. When the project failed to secure funding, she found herself with no money, no health insurance and no unemployment benefits in the capital of Belgium.


    “I spent three days not eating and going absolutely nuts,” she recalls. “I was panicking and needed: a source of income as my account had around 30 Euros left in it, a place to live, as my temporary solution remained temporary, and a lot of support.” After 15 internship applications, she was called in for an interview by a social media company. They offered her 500 Euros per month for a three-month internship.


    “My rent was 300 Euros and the other 200 were for food, transport and phone,” she said. “For the next months I gave up 95% of my lifestyle, buried my anger and frustrations and just went on. I had no idea what was to come, but I somehow think I am genetically scheduled to simply keep going because ‘people who work hard get paid back’ sooner or later”, Denisa recalls. After three months, she was offered her first work contract in Belgium, which gave her the legal right to reside in the country.


    Her friend Oana, 23, was not that lucky. She moved to Belgium for a master programme in cultural management. At the end of the first year of study she enrolled in two different internships to be able to support herself during the summer break.


    She works 8-10 hours a day for both internships and receives 1000 Euros per month, without any social security benefits. “My internship covers for someone’s job. On one hand, I am pretty grateful that I managed to find these internships, but on the other hand I do realize that there are people out there that are doing exactly the same thing and getting paid a lot more”, Oana concludes.


    Many internship advertisements posted on the most popular websites for jobs in Brussels look better fit to be full-time positions. WindMade, an organization with offices in the US and in Belgium, is looking for a full-time paid communication and marketing intern in Brussels for a period of six to twelve months. The ideal candidate should have already a university degree in a related area, excellent English language skills, web editing skills and prior relevant experience.

    When contacted by this iReporter, Angelika Pullen, the WindMade Communications Director, said she does not know what new skills the future intern will gain through the internship. “I hope they will gain some insights into how a labeling body works, and acquire some communications, drafting and marketing skills”, she then added.


    There is no outlook for the intern to be hired after the internship. Also, there is still to be decided if the internship contract will offer any social security benefits.

    Other four employers who had advertised similar internship positions have not responded to this iReporter’s query for more information.


    The array of European Union institutions, lobby groups, international and nonprofit organizations based in Brussels attracts every year thousands of interns. According to European institutions’ statistics, only the European Parliament and the European Commission hosts annually at least 1000 trainees. With the experience gained inside the institutions, many of the interns try to move on to a job. But there are numerous cases in which they enroll in another internship.


    At 26, Cristina is an experienced intern. She has had an unpaid internship at the United Nations in Vienna and a paid one at the European Commission in Brussels. She has enjoyed her internships because of the contact with the international community. But she knew from the beginning there was no chance to get hired. The difficult part came after she got used to the job and started enjoying it. By that time, the internship was over and she had to start the job search all over again. She is now at her third internship, this time in Paris, with a multinational company.


    Going through several internships before finding a stable job seems to have become common in Europe, according to a survey conducted by the European Youth Forum, a platform of 98 youth organizations from Europe. A third of the 4000 respondents to the survey had done three internships or more. About 3000 of the interns that responded to the survey have said they received no or insufficient compensation for their internships.


    “If almost one in five interns do internships because they are unable to find regular employment, it is time to scrutinize who benefits the most from this arrangement. It raises questions about the value of education and whether there is a need for improved skills matching to better prepare young graduates for the labor market. It also raises the question about what happened to regular entry level positions intended for recent school leavers with a completed education”, the study concludes.

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