Time: The (Brave) New World of Internships

Internships are getting some attention from mainstream media this week: Time is publishing “The New World of Internships“. All is well in this world where internships are providing experience and better chances to be employed. Or perhaps not all.

Andrew Sum, a sociologist at Northeastern University who studies youth in the workforce, has a bleaker explanation: traditional jobs for youths are disappearing. As immigrants and oldsters crowd the market for jobs flipping burgers or packing groceries, teens are getting squeezed. In 1978, 61% of kids aged 16 to 19 worked; in 2005, it was 40%. Sum’s data does not include internships.

“This data does not include internships” means that jobs are placed by internships. Time itself defines internships as ”  part-time job of limited duration, paid minimally or unpaid, in which the interns learn while contributing to the organization.”, meaning that youth is forsaking a wage for internships. They are not accessing new opportunities: they are getting a raw deal. What would happen if internships didn’t exist? The workforce would renew itself anyway.

Time’s definition is all wrong in the first place. Either they don’t realize what internships are or they don’t know what they should be. In the first case, they should drop the “part-time” section along with “the interns learn” because interns learn no more than a new employee. Or they could say what an internship should be and drop “while contributing to the organization” because it misleads readers into thinking that internships are meant to be beneficial to employers.

Hourra for Anya Kamenetz who pointed at the absurdity of unpaid internships:

The subject of pay is a sore point with critics. “It’s ridiculous that kids will enter the work world bearing tens of thousands of dollars in college debt, and still be expected to work for free,” says Anya Kamenetz, author of Generation Debt.

I would however nuance that the real reason to pay interns is not so much that they need the money than they simply bring money to the organizations they work for by contributing their time and competence. The article gives some examples of how a paid internship has benefited the intern and the employer.

It also quotes some who think internships are no good to get  into college:

Paid or unpaid, some high schoolers and their parents hope internships will pay off in the increasingly high-stakes scramble for spots at top colleges.

Forget it, say some. “They don’t help,” says Frank Walsh, college guidance counselor at the selective Regents School in New York City. “Colleges would much rather you did a college-level calculus course last summer than interned at an investment firm” — one reason Regents requires internships during spring of senior year, when the application ordeal is over.


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