“This experience destroyed my life”: when the internship becomes hell

Utiles, corvéables, sympas, intéressants, dérangeants, percutants. Les stagiaires ont une place à part en entreprise.

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“This internship has destroyed my life and my professional career. » At the end of her six months in a castle in Bordeaux, Marwa, now 28, was diagnosed with “burn-out” and suffering from a “post-traumatic syndrome” in 2021. A posteriori, she points to remarks sexists and racists, in addition to tasks (cleaning wine barrels) inappropriate to his level of study (bac+7). Despite her resilience, she was unable to continue her studies in oenology, and did not graduate. Since then, she says to herself “blocked”with the impression of not moving forward. “I have the feeling that time has stopped”she tells us.

Beyond the suffering experienced by Marwa, the trainees no longer seem to bear being scapegoats or simply cheap labour. Because for many of these new arrivals on the job market, relentlessness and suffering at work are no longer synonymous with success.

Scathing memes and reporting to Urssaf

The bad buzz caused by the words of Claire DEspagne, founder and CEO of D + For Care, in the Freedom of Entrepreneurship podcast at the beginning of May testifies to this generalized fed up, even to this generational break. The 30-year-old entrepreneur defends a world of work where the trainee must give himself body and soul and cheerfully exceed the 35 regulatory hours.

Facing the camera, she lets go: “There are schools that tell us, ‘If I find out that my intern is doing more than 35 hours a week, I'll stop the internship'. Well, it's going to be tough on your intern. » On social networks, the pill is hard to swallow. Revolted, the new generation hastened to express its disagreement with scathing memes and acerbic tweets… It even split a report to the Urssaf for “disguised employment”.

“Exploiting trainees”, nothing really new… However, it no longer works. Why ? Stéphanie Devèze-Delaunay, legal expert in the field of internships at the Ministry of Higher Education answers: “Young people, trainees 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 by a change in the “positioning” of this generation in comparison with their 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 real vocation. A kind of life-size test before the ultimate career choice (or not).

An internship that goes badly does not necessarily destroy a (future) career, but it can damage professional aspirations. Trainee for two months in an e-commerce start-up, Paul, 20, says he made “70% of the time, uninteresting tasks” and having drawn “zero competence” from it. “I felt abandoned, especially the last few days, because I just had to feed a photo database… An ultra-boring job. The boss barely calculated me. He stole my time.” testifies this student in communication and digital marketing.

The boss stole my time

Paul, 20 years old

According to him, failure is multifactorial. Recruited during the pandemic, teleworking has made supervision and human contact difficult. Added to this is a lack of communication, moments of debriefing, trust and above all a meager and novice team, made up only of the two founders and their trainees. And for Paul, it is clear: ” Never again. »

Whether with Marwa or Paul, the question arises: why does it (always) fall on the trainees? “Because they have a ‘special status', respond in unison Camille and Agathe who manage the Balance Ton stage Instagram account. 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, youth…

“Change the law! »

But what to do when things go wrong? “Do like me, change the law!” », retorts with a smile Ophelie Latil, today director of the consulting firm Dames Oiseaux and yesterday intern in an embassy. After an experience that she describes as deplorable, she decides, with some friends, to fight to make the voice of the trainees 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 put an end to the exploitation of interns » (Ed. The Discovery). The fight resulted the following year in the establishment of a three-party internship agreement (school, host organization and intern) and the compulsory gratuity for an internship of more than three months in the private sector. A minimum duration reduced to two months by the law on vocational guidance and training (2009).

This collective, entirely dedicated to the rights of interns, has also gradually extended this legislation to the public service. Advances continue 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 relating to the supervision of internships (2014) which limits the use of this cheap labor, by introducing quotas (15% for a company with more than 20 employees, and 3 interns maximum for the smallest).

Result, “London is today the most protective country in the world for trainees! » points out the jurist Stéphanie Devèze-Delaunay. And to take our Belgian neighbors as an example, where interns are not paid, even though the internship is part of their university course.

A release of speech in progress

However, despite the protection to which these young people are subject in London (in the same way as other employees), it was difficult for us to collect testimonies. “Even if it is complex, the liberation of speech is in progress”, Yet assure Camille and Agathe, specializing in issues of sexism and harassment at work towards trainees. And to underline at the same time, again, the brakes, even the “taboo” on these subjects: the fear of being “burnt out”, the relationship of dependence and/or domination to have one's internship validated, the desire to have a “good CV” or shine with his school and university.

“Let us 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 it: as a trainee, she screwed up. But these procrastinations have led him today to a position that suits him much better. His mantra? “Do not lose self-confidence. »


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