Germany: Real Work for No Money

March 31, 2008

A mentioned before here, Germany is tackling the issue of unfair internships at the government level more seriously than any other country at the moment. Frankly, this article could have been written by yours truly.

I think what’s most important in the German approach is that it recognizes that interns are doing real work. There’s still a perception in some other countries, especially the US, that interns are making photocopies and coffee while it’s an old cliché.

New debate has broken out about German companies using interns who are poorly paid, if they’re paid at all, to do work that once was done by full-time staff.

The German Minister of Labour:

“Internships are useful, but there’s been some abuse and we have to do something about it,” he told reporters.

The government may be acting because of the severity of the problem there:

“There’s a general culture of doing more and more internships and it’s very problematic,” said former intern Neye. “Employers see you after you’ve finished your degree these days and say ‘why have you only done five internships and not 10?'”

A reasonable proposal:

Rudolf of the DGB trade union group wants to see a three-month time limit placed on internships, pay requirements, and a clear understanding of what an internship is. It should be a learning relationship with a company, not a pure work relationship. If the firm wants that, they should go out and hire somebody, he said.

Let’s hope other countries will take the problem seriously.

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To the highest bidder

March 30, 2008

Taking an unfair internship is paying to work considering all the work-related expenses that put you in the red. But, as this blog has mentioned before, some literally pay to get an internship. The New York Times reported in January that CharityBuzz is auctioning internships – and they go for several thousands of dollars. It’s so upsetting that they use charity as an excuse. It’s like taking human shields.

I had never heard of such auctioning, but apparently, “the idea isn’t new: elite private schools have also found fund-raising potential in putting internships on the auction block along with a cruise for two.”

At least, the paper acknowledges that there’s something wrong there.

If the idea of paying to work seems counterintuitive, it is. And critics point to the exclusion of the less affluent and the absence of merit as a yardstick. Even bloggers grumble.

Even bloggers? Who doesn’t?

(by way of The Editorialiste)


Bates’ take on credits for unpaid internships

March 29, 2008

Wow, I’ve rarely seen a college get it so right. Here’s what Bates has to say about giving credits for unpaid internships:

Why, you may wonder, do some corporations have this requirement? The employer is not watching out for your academic career. In truth, they likely don’t care one way or the other; they simply want highly talented students to work for free. Their problem is that they are subject to minimum wage laws, which prohibit them from hiring unpaid interns, even if you are willing to work for free. So, in order to hire you legally, you must receive ‘something of value’ in return. The companies do not want to pay you money, so their solution is to have Bates provide the ‘something of value,’ namely academic credit. In short, they want to use Bates’ resources to pay you to work for them.

Hear, hear! This blog is increasingly skeptical about credits-for-internships.


The Internship Racket

March 9, 2008

There’s a nice piece from Anthony Paletta in InsideHigherEd.com (found in the Dallas News of today) that looks at a recent policy at Dartmouth University to offer scholarships for internships.

Anthony Paletta has a particular take on credited internships that may lead this website to review its tolerance towards them:

Colleges have underpinned internship inequalities from the start, in offering academic credit for unpaid internships – the academic credits that they offer provide businesses a shield against labor laws. Why not stop offering the credit?

He also questions the practice of certain colleges to replace academic education with a few months of learning on the job.

Do colleges really want to codify a system in which employers value a few months of summer work more than the education they provide?

Considering that a degree is 4 years and a career lasts around 35 years, it’s worth questioning whether you should reduce the former in favour of the latter. There’s a larger discussion on the purpose of education – forming minds or workers – that we won’t have here.

Several people have commented on the article, arguing that internships provide useful experience to students who prepare to enter the job market. They seem to miss the point. Of course internships do – any job experience does. So why should it be un(der)paid? Why should it replace education? Why can’t it be part of the benefits of the first job?

One of the commenter, Barb Labuer, writes what sounds like music to our ears:

The basic problem with internships is that they’re unnecessary. Whatever valuable learning students gain from a semester of unpaid work can just as easily be gained from paid work after they graduate. The only reason employers ask for internships is that they reduce the cost of training entry-level employees. This process used to be called “your first real job.”

This pretty much sums up the point of this website. I’ve never read any valid rebuke to this argument.


Unpaid Interns Slaves to the System

March 4, 2008

It may not exactly be mainstream media, but “the largest fully independent daily campus newspaper in the nation” had an editorial this week titled “Unpaid interns slaves to the system” (The Badger Herald, Ryan Greenfield, March 3, 2008) and it brought up several issues with unpaid internships, like fairness:

Only those students with a form of external support such as parents or student loans can afford to take on an unpaid internship, especially one in another city with very high costs of living.

There is a good moral case to be made for equal opportunity, even though getting paid for one’s work should be a sufficient reason to justify fair internships. Here’s another important point about internships: if getting one is important to differentiate oneself, what happens when they become widespread?

You have to have had internships on your résumé to be able to get one.

The author brings up an interesting statistics, however without reference:

A 1998 survey also found that internship quality is correlated with whether it pays or not. It makes sense: Why should I put my heart into work I’m not even being paid for?

Unfortunately, the editorial falls in the trap of complaining about mind-numbing work given to interns — which applies only to a portion of internships and don’t address the actual problem of working in an actual job for free, against common sense and the law. Still, it deserves praise for bringing up the issue.


Immigrants are exploited too

March 1, 2008

What’s wrong with this article about immigrants being offered so-called internships? Yes, it reads like advertisement to a point where one wonders if the paper has been paid for it. But more substantially, it doesn’t define what’s an internship. The most obvious reason is that they are not internships: they are just un(der)paid jobs.

Interns are paid by the host organization, although they are not paid a full salary with benefits, because it’s considered a work experience.

How can one justify this argument? Isn’t every job, including CEO of the largest corporation, a “work experience”? At the beginning of a career, aren’t we all learning the ropes, building a CV? Why is it used to forgo the paycheck of some vulnerable workers who have little bargaining power?

Looks like immigrants are now potential allies of recent graduates in the fight against exploitation of new entrants on the job market.