They are meant to give young people a taste of work, but traineeship are fast becoming a necessary, if poorly rewarded, precondition to launching their careers. Work placements are often abused as a form of cheap labour, with youngsters being given no training and little or no pay and sometimes being given simple, menial tasks like photocopying and making tea that do not make use of their skills and education. The European Parliament has now called for an end to this exploitation.
The scope of the problem
The reason young people put up with these abusive traineeships is because it has become much harder to find any sort of job. In June 2013, 23.5% of active young people had no work. In some countries the situation is much worse - 64.2% of Greek youngsters are unemployed. In 2011, 14 million people aged 15-29 were not in education, employment or training. The economic cost of this is estimated to be estimated to be €153 billion or about 1.2% of the EU's gross domestic product.
Even when they do find work, they struggle to find something permanent: 40% of young people are employed on temporary contracts, which make up just 13% of total employment.
So it is no wonder that many young people are taking up unpaid and poorly paid traineeships, a situation that disadvantages those already in a poor financial situation.
Good quality traineeships can of course be a great aid in getting young people to work. The European Parliament has campaigned for a youth guarantee to offer young people up to 25 who have been unemployed for four months a job, training or a traineeship. MEPs would like to see these schemes also extended to include graduates under 30.
MEPs are also calling for national education systems (which are entirely in the hands of individual member states) that better meet the needs of the labour market by investing more in the right skills and diversifying the types of training for jobs in demand, especially in the technological sector. There should also be better recognition of skills and aptitudes acquired outside formal education, for example through volunteering, social work and traineeships. Member states should remove all barriers to traineeships in other European countries so that more young people are encouraged to do them.
Improving the quality of traineeships
However, traineeships can only help young people to get into employment if they are of sufficient quality. MEPs call on the European Commission to propose a Quality Framework for Traineeships, including a definition of quality traineeships with criteria for appropriate compensation and working conditions in order to prevent the exploitation of young people as cheap labour.
Setting an example
The European Parliament wants the EU institutions to set a good example by removing their advertisements for unpaid traineeships from their websites and to pay a minimum allowance based on the cost of living in the place where the internship takes place.
The Parliament offers university graduates paid traineeships of five months. There are also a very small number of one to four months placements for students who need to do a a placement as part of their studies. If they don't have a scholarship the EP provides an allowance of €300 a month.
Photo copyright by Chris Beckett (released under Creative Commons licence)