Not the land of the free

July 22, 2008

According to the Globe and Mail, interns in some sectors are treated fairly in Canada. At least, they are paid.

Money, money, money That’s right. Payment.

At Protiviti Inc., a risk and audit advisory services firm in Chicago, interns are paid only a little less than first-year consultants. “In this market we’re trying to find technology, accounting and finance students. When you’re looking for that kind of student, you don’t really have an option. Everybody is paying their interns,” says Jessica Harrison, North America head of recruiting at Protiviti Inc.

At Bayer Inc., in Toronto, interns make the equivalent of what a full-time employee would make, with a salary of $26,000 to $47,000 per year. “You would be surprised what students are making these days,” says Gord Johnston, vice-president of human resources at Bayer.

Since this article is providing advice to employers looking for interns, this blog can only welcome this recommendation.


Subsidizing an illegal practice: unpaid jobs

July 17, 2008

In the Chronicle of Higher Education, Sara Lipka talks about subsidies for internships, or what I’d be happy to call “the grants [that] allow employers to keep internships unpaid — and encourage students to line up willingly for wageless work.”

This website is not exactly about student getting money for their internships. It’s about ending the unfair practice of offering unpaid jobs and justifying it by calling them “internships”. Of course, as a result, those “false interns” should be paid for their contribution to the organization, as any other employee. This is why subsidies for internships are not seen as a solution, but as an enabler for the problem.

Quoted is one of the most baffling reason why this illegal practice is so widespread:

“It’s certainly not fair,” says Mr. Oldman, of Vault, “but it’s just something that’s accepted.”

Why is it? First, and it should be reminded to those who say that in a free market students are not forced to accept unpaid jobs, “an internship used to be optional, an added bonus. But for many of today’s overprogrammed college students, it has become a critical career move — and a rite of passage.” The students have no bargaining power (ever heard of a “Recent Graduates Union”?) and they have no choice but to “collaborate in their own victimization” as is put by David L. Gregory, a professor of law at St. John’s University, in New York, who has studied the legal rights of interns. Second, employers are just too tempted by the perspective of cheap or free labour.

And finally, this practice of subsidizing internships is not helping: “It makes me wonder if it sort of enables the employers,” Mr. Vogt says. “In a way you set up the whole situation to continue status quo.” Universities may mean good, but they do more harm: “You make two students happy,” she says, “and maybe two employers, but even at a small campus, it’s at the expense of many others.” This is why “UCLA does not have a universitywide grant program.”

This acceptance doesn’t mean that it’s fair or legal.

Labor lawyers are not convinced. Some internships may be voluntary apprenticeships, they say, within the law. But they see widespread violations among employers — particularly for-profit corporations — that benefit from free labor.

How to get out of it? Students should be able to rely on the support of the institutions that are closest to them, universities being the first to come to mind.

Kathy Sims, director of career services at the University of California at Los Angeles, thinks colleges should be stronger advocates for their students. And stipends, she says, are the wrong approach. What colleges should do, says Ms. Sims, is try to persuade employers to pay interns fair wages. Employers call her office daily, she says, to ask for help designing internships. She argues for decent salaries. She tells employers that, among other benefits, they will attract a more diverse pool of candidates.

Here’s to universities who address the problem rather than enabling it.

Denouncing unfair internships: It works

July 5, 2008

I’m yet to read an article that quotes a lawyer saying that unfair internships are legal. The bottom line is always the same as in this article from the OregonLive:

“An internship, to be unpaid and legal, needs primarily to be a learning experience for the intern and not something where the intern is expected to produce work product that is going to benefit the employer.”

There are some good news for the interns:

“All it takes is one disgruntled intern, or their parent or spouse or friend, to call the U.S. Department of Labor, and the company who follows this type of exploitative advice is toast,” he said. “The government is becoming increasingly aggressive in hunting down these situations.”

The article gives a very useful resource to denounce unfair internships:

The Labor Department takes complaints on the Web, in local district offices, and through the toll-free number 1-866-4-USWAGE. Officials will investigate whether internships violate wage and hour laws or other labor laws.

And a good reminder to all those who think they may just try anyway:

The bottom line: You can’t just call people interns to avoid paying them, said Rosemary Gousman, a Murray Hill, N.J.-based regional managing partner at Fisher and Phillips, a labor law firm.

It’s also worth quoting the opening paragraph of the article, a good summary of why students often fall for unfair internships:

Summer interns are ripe for exploitation. They’re desperate for real-life experience to help them land a permanent job, at a time when the economy is slowing and positions are scarce. Many are willing to work for free or below-market rates just to get a foot in the door.

Less jobs, more internships

July 2, 2008

The economy slows down and the demand for unpaid interns goes up. Coincidence? We think not.

Apprenticeships, not internships, are the answer

July 1, 2008

Philip L. Elison questions the advice of Lou Glazer from Michigan future who says that unpaid internships are the answer to Michigan’s exodus of graduates.

Unlike paid jobs, internships provided by Michigan’s universities and colleges are generally unpaid, half-time positions, doing the work normally done by full-time professionals in the field. What career offices are touting as “hands-on experience” is what employers view as “free labor.” It is no surprise graduates then run for the paying jobs in other states. As the adage goes, “You get what you pay for.”

And he suggests a solution: do what the US law says.

Instead of internships, businesses and organizations should be creating apprenticeships. In the skilled trade sectors, an apprentice begins to work for a skilled mentor that provides advice, guidance and counsel. While working and being paid, the college apprentice gets on-the-job training, makes connections in the field and accumulates hands-on experience.

It’s so obvious you wonder why Michigan Future haven’t thought of it themselves.

Update (July 15): The president of the Detroit Regional Chamber offers a defense of the program: the program will focus on paid and rewarding interships – 25,000 of them. It would be nice to hear from those interns once the program starts.