Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Against Internships

I can't help but find interesting an article that says the following:

Interns are like illegal immigrants. Says Kamenetz: "They create an oversupply of people willing to work for low wages, or in the case of interns, literally nothing." But they're worse, because instead of doing the jobs nobody wants to do, college interns do the jobs that everybody their age wants to do, but that only the wealthier can afford.

Shame on you wage-depressing, union-killing interns!

Unpaid internships are another implicit leg up for rich kids who can afford to work for a summer without money. Otherwise they send less fortunate kids into even worse debt.

Perhaps things are different for non-profits and/or government, but businesses are not in business to create jobs--they're in business to make money for their owners! If someone is actually willing to work for free, what legitimate argument can be made against the practice?


silvermine said...

Not all interns are unpaid.

I have worked for free though -- it's expected if you are an undergrad who wants to go to grad school for science. Who is going to pay a person who only has theoretical but no practical experience? Well, if there were no minimum wage laws, I might have at least been paid something. But I doubt it -- if you do that, I wouldn't be asked to work tons of hours.

I was also an intern technical writer. I was paid more for that job than I would have been as a non-intern, entry-level scientist lab bench person. So yes, I work for free for my degree, and then I'm worth less still than an intern writer. Amazing world isn't it?

Other writers would say I ruined their pay scale by agreeing to work so cheap! However, I had no technical writing experience and managed to climb very quickly up the ladder.

Oh, and then I did free work for the company on a software engineering project. 5-10 hours a week, on top of my regular writing job. Then I moved to a position as a software engineer. Far less work than I would have done to get a degree... I just did the work and proved myself.

I just do it all wrong, yet somehow end up ahead... ;)

Stopped Clock said...

Are they really willing to work for free? My understanding was that an unpaid internship was generally a requirement for being hired to a full-time position, and that it was seen as an extension of the applicant's education.

I think unpaid internships are a terrible idea.

Ellen K said...

From what I have observed, internships, paid or unpaid, are spoils of the rich and connected. I don't know of many kids who can get lucrative internships without someone pulling some strings. Interns do get valuable experience inside organizations and that is something that pushes an applicants resume forward. But for many middle class kids who have to work to pay for school, any internship is simply out of reach. So perhaps they need to be more limited in their scope or more clearly defined as to their limits. If an intern is doing the work in lieu of a paid assistant, then perhaps we need to question why anyone would take advantage of a college student rather than hiring someone to do the job.

maxutils said...

Willing is a stretch. I mean, how GREAT was that student teaching? What saves internships is that they are limited in scope; no one would agree to work forever for free (although, that comes dangerously close to the expectations of liberal legislators in California). As a union member, I wouldn't necessarily poo-poo the idea, provided that it was a requirement to eventually join in -- after all, some 'free' work being done opens up more funding for the rest of us. In reality, an internship should not affect the lifetime earnings of a worker, and has the positive effect of weeding out the disinclined or inept. Mostly. Which gives me an idea -- more legislative interns!

rightwingprof said...

The top business schools require their undergrad majors to do internships to get practical experience. In most cases, the business will offer the student a position upon graduation provided the student did a good job.

allen (in Michigan) said...

If someone is actually willing to work for free, what legitimate argument can be made against the practice?

So far, none in this thread.

David said...

"If someone is actually willing to work for free, what legitimate argument can be made against the practice?" Plenty of arguments. If your interns represent your pipeline of future hires, or a substantial portion of that pipeline, you are restricting your future human resource pool to those who can afford to work without pay, and certainly losing out on significant talent. You are likely to acquire a higher than normal % of employees with a strong sense of entitlement. And by raising class barriers and inhibiting social mobility, you are undercutting capitalism itself.

Darren said...

Sorry, David, I can't agree with you. Someone *might* be doing the first few things you said, but I assert they should be able to do so. But undercutting capitalism itself? No way! Mighty big leap you're taking there, and without some supporting information, I can't go with you.

David said...


undercuts capitalism because--like the excessive emphasis on educational credentials, especially advanced degrees from "elite" colleges--it gives too much preference to those whose parents are affluent, and hence undercuts meritocracy. A system in which birth rather than ability determines your position in society is aristocracy, not capitalism....we're a long way from there, of course, but I have concerns about the direction in which we are moving.

Most people hire interns in order to develop a pipeline for future hiring, rather than as a particularly effective way for getting work done.

Darren said...

I think you misconstrue what *capitalism* is.

allen (in Michigan) said...

Most people hire interns in order to develop a pipeline for future hiring, rather than as a particularly effective way for getting work done.

That would be "getting work done now".

The employer's taking advantage of the student's desire to get an educational jump on their fellows by interning, doing various kinds of scut-work, and the employer gets a chance at a better hire. Since there's no coercion involved, both parties to the agreement seeing advantage for themselves, it's a perfect example of capitalism at work.

If rich kids have an advantage in this situation, and I'm not quite as convinced as David is that that's true, the advantages that come with wealth are a big part of the reason why people seek wealth.

I think David's a proponent of "managed" capitalism.

David said...

"managed capitalism"..I'm not proposing that the practice be made illegal, rather, that it's bad policy on the part of the company or the individual executive doing it.

Thought experiment: you're hiring college grads for a company with a stellar reputation: P&G or Google or GE. The number of qualified applicants is 4X the number of slots you have available. You *could* charge each applicant a $5K fee for your trouble in reviewing and interviewing him, and still have plenty of applicants, say 3X the number of positions available. This would generate $15K in revenue, all solid profit, for each slot filled.

Would this be a wise policy? Would you do it?

Isn't it effectively similar to the unpaid-intern policy?

vanyali said...

No one hires interns to really get work done. Internships are extended job interviews.

I agree that requiring people to sit through months-long job interviews at zero pay, in effect, weeds out people who either can't afford it or who don't have the social conditioning to understand it. But, you know, employers can do what they want.