FIT, the voice of associations of translators, interpreters and terminologists around the world, sees a strong need to state its position on internships relating to those professions.
Internships come in many different forms. Basically they enable interns (students in secondary or higher education or postgraduates) to gain work experience in white-collar and professional careers at companies or institutions. Legislation on internships varies from one country to another, often with a distinction being made between for-profit and non-profit organisations.
There are a number of benefits for interns themselves, including:
- They can find out if a particular career is suitable for them.
- They may acquire certain skills and experience valuable to them in their subsequent working life.
- They are able to gain new insights and establish a network of contacts.
- The internship may act as a door-opener enabling them to get a permanent job later with the relevant organisation.
- They experience working surroundings that differ from school, college or university.
- They may receive references that can be presented to future employers.
The organisations concerned derive benefits. For example:
- They can find suitable candidates for subsequent permanent employment.
- These candidates need less on-the-job training when taking up permanent employment with the respective organisation.
- Successful internships have a positive impact on an organisation's image and reputation.
- They get fresh ideas from young people.
- They have a chance to obtain a better insight into academic curricula.
The advantages of an internship for both the employer and the intern may be obvious. But when it comes to the remuneration of the intern, several questions have to be asked:
- Is the internship an obligatory part of the course of study and rewarded with credit points?
- Does the intern need more or less constant, close supervision?
- Does the intern derive a much greater benefit from the internship than the employer?
If the answer to these questions is 'yes', then the internship may be considered part of the training/studies with no need for payment of a minimum wage – although some kind of appreciation would seem to be fair.
However, if the intern is able to do his/her work quite independently and assumes certain types of responsibility and if the employer directly benefits from the work of the intern, he/she should at least be paid a minimum wage and should not be employed as an intern for more than nine months as a rule.
While this distinction seems to be clear for for-profit organisations, the situation is more complicated when dealing with internships in non-profit organisations. As these organisations very often operate at an international level or help people from other countries at a national level, they frequently need translators and interpreters to be able to do their work. In many cases, recruiting unpaid interns seems to be a good, cheap solution. Yet these interns often do their work without any supervision and the organisation benefits a lot from their work. If all other members of the staff of the non-profit organisation do their work on an unpaid basis, then it is fair enough that the translator/interpreter intern is not paid either. But if other staff members are paid for their work, then there is no reason not to remunerate the translator/interpreter intern.
Internships should therefore be
- temporary, i.e. normally not last more than nine months;
- paid – if they are unpaid, the benefits for the interns should clearly predominate;
- mutually beneficial;
- based on equal opportunity, i.e. access to the internship should be possible regardless of the candidate's financial situation;
- properly organised, meaning that a detailed training/education plan is in place and that the intern should be familiarised with the organisation's structure, be introduced to the relevant staff/managers and have a designated supervisor, who completes a performance review at the end of the internship;
- integrated in health, accident and other statutory insurance schemes;
- within a reasonably safe environment, including means of communication enabling the intern's family to be notified, if necessary.
FIT welcomes the availability of internships, provided that they are not seen as a form of cheap labour or as a substitute for regular employment. They should be fair, well structured and preferably paid. Internships are a valuable opportunity for young people to gain first-hand initial experience in the world of translation, interpreting or terminology work.