“This Experience Destroyed My Life”: When the Internship Turns to Hell

“This internship destroyed my life and my professional career. » After six months in a castle in Bordeaux, Marwa, now 28, says she was “burnt out” in 2020. Afterwards, she points out sexist and racist comments, as well as tasks (cleaning wine barrels) inappropriate with her level. of study (bac+7). Despite her resilience, she was unable to continue her studies in oenology and did not graduate. Since then she tells herself “blocked”with the impression of not moving forward. “I have the feeling that time has stopped”she tells us.

In addition to the suffering experienced by Marwa, the interns no longer seem to be scapegoats or simply cheap labor. Because for many of these newcomers to the job market, relentlessness and suffering at work are no longer synonymous with success.

Biting memes and reports for Urssaf

The bad buzz caused by Claire DEspagne, founder and CEO of D+ For Care, on the Freedom of Entrepreneurship podcast in early May attests to this widespread frustration, even this generational disruption. The 30-year-old businessman defends a world of work where the intern must give himself body and soul and happily exceed the regular 35 hours.

Facing the camera, she blurts out: “There are schools that tell us: ‘If I find out that my intern is working more than 35 hours a week, I’ll stop the internship’. Well, it’s going to be difficult for your intern. » On social media, the pill is hard to swallow. Disgusted, the new generation rushed to express their disagreement with scathing memes and scathing tweets… “undercover job”.

“Exploring trainees”, nothing really new… But it doesn’t work anymore. Why ? Stéphanie Devèze-Delaunay, legal expert in the field of internships at the Ministry of Higher Education, responds: “Young people, interns or employees, today seek meaning in their work. They no longer want to live to work, but to work to earn an income. Their life happens next to the office. »

Know what you don’t want

An explanation that she supports for a change in the “positioning” of this generation in relation to the elders. The internship is now more experienced as a “means of knowing what you don’t want to do” rather than the beginning of a true vocation. A kind of life-size test before the final career choice (or not).

A bad internship doesn’t necessarily destroy a (future) career, but it can damage professional aspirations. Trainee for two months at an e-commerce start-up, Paul says he did it “70% of the time, uninteresting tasks” and having taken from her “zero competence”. “I felt abandoned, especially in the last few days, because I just needed to feed a database of photos… An ultra boring job. The boss miscalculated me. He stole my time.” attests this student in communication and digital marketing.

The boss stole my time

According to him, failure is multifactorial. Recruited during the pandemic, teleworking has made supervision and human contact difficult. Added to this is the lack of communication, moments of debriefing, trust and, above all, a scarce and inexperienced team, composed only of the two founders and their interns. And for Paul, of course: ” Never. “

Whether with Marwa or Paul, the question arises: why does this (always) fall on interns? “Because they have a ‘special status’, Camille and Agathe, who manage the Balance Ton stage’s Instagram account, respond in unison. We are plagued by all forms of discrimination and abuse. » Although aggravated by the health crisis, the factors of this precariousness are structural: the time in the reception structure is short (less than six months) and its corollary turnover, the low level of gratification, the lack of experience, the youth…

“Change the law! »

But what to do when things go wrong? “Do as I do, change the law!” », retorts with a smile Ophelie Latil, today director of the Damoiseau consultancy and yesterday an intern at an embassy. After an experience that she describes as deplorable, she decides, with some friends, to fight to make the trainees’ voices heard.

It was in 2005. The collective Génération précaire (of which Ophélie Latil is the spokesperson) released a book “Be a trainee and shut up! To end the exploitation of interns » (Ed. The Discovery). The fight resulted in the following year in the establishment of a tripartite internship contract (school, host organization and intern) and mandatory gratuity for an internship of more than three months in the private sector. A minimum duration reduced to two months by the Vocational Guidance and Training Act (2009).

This collective, entirely dedicated to the rights of interns, also gradually extended this legislation to the public service. Progress continues in 2011, where the maximum duration is limited to six months and the internship cannot correspond to a “real job”. Added to this is a law on supervision of traineeships (2014) which limits the use of this cheap labour, introducing quotas (15% for a company with more than 20 employees, and a maximum of 3 trainees for the smallest ).

Result, “France is now the most protective country in the world for interns! » highlights the jurist Stéphanie Devèze-Delaunay. And to take our Belgian neighbors as an example, where interns are not paid, although the internship is part of their university course.

A speech release in progress

However, despite the protection that these young people are subject to in France (as well as other collaborators), it was difficult for us to collect testimonies. “Even if it is complex, the liberation of speech is in progress”, Still guarantee Camille and Agathe, who specialize in issues of sexism and harassment at work for interns. And to underline at the same time, once again, the brakes, even the “taboo” on these subjects: the fear of being “burned”, the relationship of dependence and/or domination to validate the stage, the desire to have a “good curriculum” or shine with your school and university.

“Let’s feel guilty, then advises Ophélie Latil. Sometimes things go wrong, and that’s normal. The course is also made to break your teeth! » This professional readily admits: as an intern, she screwed up. But these procrastinations have now led him to a position that suits him much better. Your mantra? “Don’t lose your self-confidence. »

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