Unpaid internships are just not worth it

August 6, 2012

If you think you need an unpaid internship to get a foot in the door and then a job, I’d like you to meet reality:

The [National Association of Colleges and Employers] released a study this week showing that 60% of 2012 graduates who worked a paid internship got at least one job offer, while just 37% of those in unpaid gigs got any offers. That’s slightly – only slightly – better than the offer rate for graduates who skipped internships entirely, at 36%.

It is no better than no internship at all. Being paid on the other hand is much better, 62% better. And that’s for all unpaid internships, not to mention unfair internships where you surely get no on-the-job training.


Stephen Colbert on Unfair Internships (again)

February 29, 2012
Money quote:
“You don’t have to be a college student anymore. An employer can just call you an ‘intern’ and then not pay you!”
“We had these in the South 150 years ago: cotton internships.”
(Wish I could embed the video, but my provider does not allow it.)

A debate about unfair internships

February 5, 2012

The New York Times is hosting a debate about unpaid internships (side note: I really wish having been more successful at promoting the use of “unfair internships”). So far, five people have shared their opinion, four against and one in favor. There is Ross Perlin, well-known as the author of Intern Nation, who describes the recent evolution (degradation) of internships. There is Alex Footman, who is suing Fox Searchlight for his own experience as an unpaid intern and who’s making the argument that enforcing the law is he government’s job, not his (agreed). Then, an employment attorney makes the simple point, argued here too that internships are “a valuable idea, if we follow the law”. Raphael Pope-Sussman makes the case that unions should take up the fight to enforce the law and restrict unfair internships (in the UK, the Trade Union Congress does it).

This is all good and thoughtful, but let’s look at the dissenter’s argument. David Law, founder of Above the Law (I’m not joking) makes this interesting argument:

But unpaid internships are more a symptom than a cause of economic weakness. They are so popular right now because many employers, large and small, simply don’t have the ability to create new, full-time, paid positions.

Oh, that’s what it is! The employers really, really want to pay their junior staff, they just can’t afford it! Oh well then. They should pass on the idea to all companies that are going bankrupt: stop paying your staff if you can’t afford it, it’s no big deal. David Law then caps it off with this gem:

In the end, the status quo, while imperfect and inconsistent, may not be that bad.

What he apparently does not realize is that there is no status quo: the situation is getting worse, as Ross Perlin demonstrates. Who, 20 years ago, needed to go through some 5 internships before getting a paid position?

It’s good that the New York Times take up this issue and it’s even better to see that it is so hard to find a good defense of unfair internships.


Internships: The Scandal of Britain’s Unpaid Army

November 15, 2011

The Guardian has two excellent articles on the scandal (their word) of unfair internships. Internships: the scandal of Britain’s unpaid army makes the point that internships are not an option.

With youth unemployment approaching the one million mark, getting to the first rung of the employment ladder has never been harder for Britain’s young people. As competition grows so too have the barriers, including the need to have experience of the workplace before securing a paid job.

Gone are the days when a week’s placement during the school holidays at your parent’s company could make your CV stand out. Now school leavers and even graduates are expected to have months of varied experiences to cut the mustard at interview. The problem, civil servants admit, has become endemic.

Even more interesting is Interns work – and should be paid, lawyers warn ministers:

Thousands of unpaid interns could be entitled to compensation after government legal advice emerged suggesting employers are breaking the law by not following national minimum wage rules.

It is no surprise that someone with legal background sees the travesty of unfair internships, but it is quite pleasant to see the government’s lawyers acknowledge it.

All this activity in the UK is cause for optimism. Much the way that rock and roll then rap became respectable as their fans grew older, it is possible that as more victims of unfair internships get in position of power (including writing for The Guardian), the more crackdown there will be on the practice (cue in The times they are a-changin‘).


Unpaid interns: working for free

July 29, 2011

We went from lukewarm to cold on internships-for-credits, but it looks like it has gotten worse out there. Not only are colleges playing along, advertising unfair internships and making up programs with credits for internships without pay, but now they have started managing the expectations of graduates and legitimize what is an illegal and unfair practice. From the Globe and Mail, this quote from a student at Sheridan College:

“That was something [professors] stressed really hard – that we would not get paid”

Wait, there’s more, from another student:

“Humber is holding my diploma up in the air and saying we’re not giving it to you till you do this.”

At least, one law professor from York sees through it:

“My sense is that many employers believe simply calling someone an ‘intern’ relieves them of all employment obligations”.

Exactly. Ask them a simply question: why do you call it an “internship”?

 


Do you want an internship? It’ll cost you

January 28, 2009

The mainstream media (liberal, remember!) has one more priceless – or rather costly – story about unfair internships. The Wall Street Journal praises programs that ask for money in return for placements in unpaid internships.

But parents say the fees are a small price for giving their children a toehold in a treacherous job market.

How much more do we need to understand that we have a collective action problem? A parent that gives a “toehold” to his kid has just put every other kid behind and other parents will be pushed to do the same until everybody is paying to get a job and we’re back at square one. What do you do then to get ahead? You pay more. That’s how you go from accepting a lower pay, to accepting something below the minimum wage, to accepting an unpaid job and now to paying to get one.

But Megan, then 20, had already applied for 25 summer internships and hadn’t received any replies.

Do we need any more proof? Maybe this.

The program they used (…) is one of a handful of for-profit internship companies that have sprung up in the past few years.

Sigh.

Gina Philips, Los Angeles, a consultant to the Alzheimer’s Association, says demand from wealthy parents has led employers in the entertainment industry to create internships that otherwise wouldn’t exist, just to help raise money.

And I spared you all the justifications that finally, these pay-to-work schemes are making the job market more fair to the less fortunate. Lucky you.


Excepting Areas Related to Compensation

January 14, 2009

It’s really not that difficult to understand why the mainstream media talks so little about unfair internships.

All aspects of the official Employee Handbook also apply to interns at the [New York] Sun, excepting areas related to compensation.

Would the Employee Handbook (capitalized, wow) prevent an intern at the New York Sun to write an article about unfair internships?


Should You Pay Your Student Intern?

May 2, 2008

Any serious article that looks closely into this question comes to the same conclusion: unless you’re in the business of training people because you’re a nice person, then you should pay your staff, be they called interns, employees, associates or GOs. Business Week comes to the same conclusion. Money quote:

“You just have to remember that, unless you are interested in really offering training to somebody in the field, you are not going to get cheap labor.”

Needless to say, the arguments of those who don’t pay their staff are weak:

“There are an abundance of students who want that type of hands-on client experience.”

Thankfully, the US law is not so naive:

In a recent InternBridge survey of 12,084 students who completed internships in 2007, 18% said they didn’t receive compensation or receive college credit for their services. “That’s flat-out illegal,” Bottner says.

And one more nail in the coffin of credits-for-pay schemes:

Complicating matters, some employers ask that the student receive college credit for their work in order to avoid having to pay them, a demand that puts students from low- or middle-income backgrounds at a disadvantage. It means students have to pay their college for that course credit, a cost that can add up to several thousand dollars.

They use the word “model” rather than “scheme”, but they are saying the same thing as this blog:

It’s a model that is becoming increasingly controversial within the higher education community, where career-services professionals say students should be paid at least minimum wage.

Is it clear enough now?


Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.