Spain: A country of interns?

Survey finds that 67% of Spanish graduates go on to internship positions

Many young Spanish graduates end up in unpaid or low-earning internships.
Many young Spanish graduates end up in unpaid or low-earning internships.Gettyimages

Spain ranks second in the European Union when it comes to the number of graduates who are working as interns. It also tops the list of EU countries for worst-paid intern work: 70% of Spaniards surveyed said their pay is insufficient to cover rent, food, and other basic needs.

The Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) released these figures as part of its Skills Outlook 2015 report, which analyzes youth employability among 16- to 29-year-olds in the member states.

I have been at companies where one intern would train the next intern”

Ane F., business administration graduate

While internships at companies can “ease the transition” between school or university and the labor market, the OECD warns about the risk of abuse.

“Internships are not always remunerated, or if they are, the remuneration can be much lower than the standard minimum wage,” reads the report.

The study used a 2013 Eurobarometer poll showing that 67% of Spanish graduates go on to internship positions. Of these, 11% accepted more than one internship.

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To make matters worse, only 29% said they were receiving financial compensation for their work, representing the highest level of precariousness in the entire EU.

Even so, Spaniards remain optimistic about the advantages of doing internships. Fully 83% of those surveyed said they agreed that their internships were, or would be, useful in finding a regular job. This view is only shared by an even higher percentage of youths in Ireland and Romania.

Yet this optimism is in stark contrast with the fact that only 33% reported having been offered an employment contract at the term of their internship.

Another defining trait of Spanish interns is their reticence to travel abroad: only 5% trained abroad, compared with the 9% average across the EU, which soars to 11% for French youths and 56% for Slovaks.

The Eurobarometer survey was conducted in 2013 among 12,900 people, ages 18 through 35, in the 28 EU member states.

From intern to temp

C. D.

Ane F., a young woman from the Basque Country who has a degree in business administration, graduated in 2011 and did an internship at a Chamber of Commerce. After that, she completed a master’s degree and took another internship at the sales department of a major tire company.

“I was getting paid, but if I hadn’t been living with my parents, I don’t think I would have been able to make it on my own,” she explains.

Ane knew that she had no chance of being offered a regular job at the company where she was interning, but she still worked hard.

“You do it to gain experience and to round off your resume,” she says.

After that, she did a third internship at a hospitality company’s marketing department. “I wasn’t getting paid at all there.”

And there is more. “I have been at companies where one intern would train the next intern,” she reveals. “When that happens, straight away you know you have no chances of staying on.”

But even that is better than staying at home doing nothing, she claims. “At least sometimes you make contacts with people who know you work well, and may call you back later on,” she says.

After completing yet another course, Ane is now an intern again at a company that only pays for her transportation costs.

“But this time I am getting hired. I start on Monday. First I’ll be there three months, extendable to another three,” she says about her new part-time, temporary contract.

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