Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Hiring interns in the non-profit sector: are there no ethics?

Today I shall refer to a very different topic to those habitually included in this blog, that worries me particularly as human rights professional: the almost disappearance of paid positions in the human rights sector (non-profit), as to give place to the increasing amount of internships.
You study human rights, probably you complete a postgraduate program, or two, or three, or more. Perhaps you publish articles, or even a book. You attend expensive courses as to update your knowledge. You want to be a good professional. All of this has a cost, of course. Then, may be, if you do not have work experience, you accept an internship (than in reality is an unpaid full-time job), as to gain work experience.
And after that, what?
Browsing some LinkedIn profiles today, I found with sadness how some professionals have no option that to jump from an internship to the next one. Browsing job postings, internships prevail. As it is said in the US, most jobs are advertised through networks, if you are not inside, you will never get to know that new opportunities exist (it is another story the discussion of the ethics of just recruiting and interviewing "friends of friends").
If I am a manager, and I post an internship, probably I need assistance and I want that a "new" professional earns some further experience. Explain me, please, how happens that some human rights professionals are just short-listed among candidates for unpaid positions, and when they apply for a paid opening even in the same organization for which they have worked for free during several months, though they have been good performers as interns, however, they are not even interviewed for the paid job.
As said before, internships can be a good opportunity for newcomers to the work life as to earn skills when we do not have the resources as to pay for work, and our program is so important that unpaid work appears to be "good" to sacrifice. Moreover, an organization can test a worker sur place, thinking in a future hire. However, this is not the reality of the human rights market today.
If I forward or I re-publish an internship position in my network, am I aware of any ethical dilemma? Is the intern being used or abused? Is it a learning experience of temporary character for a new professional or is it the abuse of the person that "got in" and does not permit other ones to develop a normal professional life, implying a salary (even in the nonprofit sector, you need to eat, you have family and further needs), and other benefits, as any other normal person.
If you publish job ads, including internships, please, ask yourself whether you are not also contributing exploitation of a colleague by another colleague, in times of crisis (economic and ethical).

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