Do internships just fall in this hole where you'd like to have an office wench but can't quite justify it in a budget, or is it entirely a made up social convention where older generations are extracting rents from new graduates?
At any rate, the effect seems pretty clear to me: unpaid internships are huge drivers of inequality. They obviously limit opportunities for social mobility towards people that can be subsidized, or otherwise have access to liquidity. There's something really insidious about pushing people away from increasingly wide classes of cushy jobs they're otherwise perfectly capable of performing.
Startups: pay your (non technical) interns minimum wage, at least. It makes me kind enraged to see this start to happen in our industry.
I believe that they can be, but as someone who actually had an unpaid intern (and who eventually got said intern a job at the company where we were working), let me make a case that they do not have to be exploitative.
I personally enjoy teaching, and have taught at two different universities. In addition to simply being a rewarding thing to do, it is a good way to get even better at whatever you are teaching.
So when I was the production manager in charge of making a bunch of marketing sites for small insurance agencies, I called up one of the local universities. They were quite happy (after some conversations with their faculty) to send me a student who was getting ready to graduate and who was interested in creating content for the web.
I didn't expect the intern to get any actual work done, just to kind of try and work through some of the projects that we were doing. The work that I was giving him was pretty much the same work that the paid staff were getting, and although we actually did end up using elements of his designs he was much slower and had a much smaller skill set than someone I would actually hire.
However, after a semester of working with us, his markup, scripting, and associated skills were a lot better. In addition to his own efforts, I spent time structuring his work assignments in ways that built from one topic to the next, and was available to critique his work in ways that he found useful.
So, this relationship was mutually beneficial: he is more skilled than he was, has at least some work experience to put down (other than food service), he received course credit (IIRC), and got a picture of what the inside of that kind of agency looks like.
For our part, we got a very small amount of marginal work, and for my personal part I improved my own scripting and CSS skills, in addition to simply enjoying working with folks who are learning.
Now, if we were just trying to fill a minimally skilled position with someone who was an employee and skim by calling them an "intern" instead of "an exploited worker", that would be different.
But I believe it is possible (though perhaps not likely) that unpaid, non-exploitative internship relationships can exist.
But what about the other kid who may or may not have been more qualified than the kid you hired, but couldn't afford to work for free?
Besides, if we assume the work produced by the intern is of negligible to zero value, and we still decide to force companies to pay for such interns, in the current work environment they will simply stop offering them. This seems like a net loss to me.
Seriously though, perhaps I'm just cynical, but I seriously doubt that such internships won't be offered. Companies get monetary gain from interns, otherwise they wouldn't spend any time and effort on them (even if not money). I think the simpler answer is that companies are just cheap. I mean, experience is great and all, but if money is being made off of a person's labor, then they deserve my cut. How large that cut should be is up for negotiation, but that they deserve a cut shouldn't be.
I mean, ultimately, the big obvious problem of capitalism is that the upkeep of labor is pushed onto the laborer... almost to the point where (to a very small extent) it could be possible that forcing labor to pay for its upkeep while exploiting it for profit is a defining characteristic of capitalism.
While I find it to be an interesting discussion, unless you want to decry systematic problems, you're really not going far enough with your "what about".
And we don't have to do everything within that system, do we? I mean, isn't direct action a good response to large, systematic problems?
"Wait, what are you saying? Employment should be predicated on the employer giving the employee an adequate monetary reward in exchange for an adequate monetary reward for the employee? And if either side isn't getting their adequate monetary reward, the job shouldn't exist? This is a radical concept!"
No, my point is that an internship is not a"job", interns shouldn't be treated like "employees", and that I was trading, based on my experience as a both a teacher and an expert in the content area for a personal reward of getting to teach for a bit.
When internships are equivocal with jobs, they are exploitative. I agree with you and the linked article on that.
What is not exploitative is when there is an actual exchange of, say, useful information and pedagogy in a system where you can't learn techniques without making stuff, especially in a way that privileged the growth of both a specific person and a larger workforce.
But I am not saying that we shouldn't make it better (though if it would ceases to function in favor of some yet unnamed better thing, I will be much happier than if it were merely "better").
However, once you want to talk about freedom in the labor market, it should be pretty clear that there is none at all: what about me? Through no fault of my own, I can't afford to commute into a city, so I occasionally lose work and make less than I otherwise would.
But since we really can't do much about these systematic issues on an individual level, I can respect your stance towards banning unpaid internships outright: seems like an okay idea to me.
I am not saying that we should make reforms.
I am saying that it's possible to modify how capitalism operates by means other than banning practices, that is, by improving what people are doing with unpaid internships by 1) not treating them as labor in any sense and 2) not making their exchange about money.
Or if you prefer, why internships at all: why not abolish the whole concept of underpaid, low skilled labor and -only- hire "employees" at a real rate while working on helping them gain newer and better skill sets?
For some companies having to pay interns would just mean they wouldn't offer internships at all.
The reason interns are paid less (or not at all) is that there are lower expectations for interns and other staff usually has to take time to mentor them or check their work.
Maybe not the best example, but if a new paid employee says, "No, I've never used source control, what's that about?" it's a big problem. If an intern says it, you explain it and move on.
And thus it came to pass that the unpaid internship replaced the entry-level job.
I know there's no point in pleading with an economically rational capitalist like yourself, but stop exploiting the proletariat, or one of these days we won't even walk into your damned office.
If you don't think you're being treated fair, that's exactly what you should do. Duh.
I got a half semester worth of college credit for various internships and wouldn't have my current job (or subsequently my car or home) had I not had it.
Go back to Mother Russia and leave the thinking to the adults.
You think it's not exploitation to have to work without being paid? Are you fucking kidding me?
Not only that, the intern will have to learn a lot of things he did not learn at school because it's not the market reality.
If they did a good job they generally get a nice gift (like an ipad) and sometimes a job.
Granted we have no Harvard around, i guess it could be different but, I don't think unpaid intern are dramatic at all, rarely an intern can do as well a job that even a 2 years experienced guy does.
Is there really a large glut of recent graduates and a corresponding lack of new jobs, or is this just a collective action problem where since recent graduates can't reject unpaid internships en masse we're stuck in a race to the bottom?
Do we offer unpaid internships because there are just so many people willing to work for free, or do we offer unpaid internships because there are people willing to work for free and everyone else is also doing it?
We're only one or two steps away from reverse paid internships, or looking at them as investments. "Seeking executive assistant. Minimum MBA or equivalent post-graduate degree. First one to pony up $20k gets it".
So we have millions of kids graduating college with no discernable skills, and an industrial economy that is all but dead. Perfect ground for exploitation of these kids who just want to get their foot in the door of some place that has air conditioning and decent medical benefits.
Both. That's the way the labor market has always been: a collective-action problem where any one worker can undercut living standards for everyone else in their field whenever supply outnumbers demand. The answer to the problem, traditionally, has been to unionize.
We're only one or two steps away from reverse paid internships, or looking at them as investments. "Seeking executive assistant. Minimum MBA or equivalent post-graduate degree. First one to pony up $20k gets it".
Which is going to be the point where the Protestant Work Ethic finally breaks down and America's youth goes on strike. I'm looking forward to it.
Since engineering department paid their interns, they always had to work out some project plans and business necessity in order to have the position(s) open for the summer. So kinda obvious that many students did not get a chance to intern, as with paid internships the company was way more frugal and selective.
I get defensive when the issue of unpaid internships comes up because I did an unpaid internship in High School, learned a hell of a lot, and was able to use it to gain well-paid internships throughout college.
It's amazing that in a country with a minimum wage it's still possible to hire people for a job for free.
My point is that I was able to make an informed decision to take an unpaid position, and it benefited me. Had it been a paid position, it either wouldn't have been offered (the department didn't have a lot of money) or would have gone to someone else with more experience. So when people advocate for unpaid internships to be banned, I get frustrated, especially when they say it's for the intern's benefit.
Don't get me wrong, it absolutely sucks that it's possible (market-wise) to hire university grads for nothing, but banning unpaid internships doesn't solve the underlying market problem. And I'd argue that it doesn't increase social mobility, either, since floor/ceiling prices tend to encourage nepotism.
I don't believe it's a market problem, it's a social problem. You have this pool of ever increasing free labor not because of the market but because it's now necessary to intern to get a job. If an employer has to choose between someone who will work for free or someone who won't because they can easily get a paying job at Starbucks, who are they going to choose?
- Programmers of any sort who can get the job done in demand. There are more people who want to pay them than programmers available.
- Even inexperienced programmers add value - sometimes a tremendous amount of value. It's not too hard to find a non-critical, short term project that would still be very useful, and the intern starts adding value on day one. So employers are less likely to "do without" if it turns out they have to pay.
- Software interns have a better unpaid internship than the one you're offering - founding their own company. If a recent grad with programming ability is getting outside financial help (the kind that a parent might give to a recent grad doing an unpaid internship in the entertainment industry), that programmer can just try creating an app and seeing how to turn it into something financially viable. They might fail (they probably will fail), but will the experience be worse than a year of not getting paid at a bigco? (It depends, but a lot of companies in high tech would be impressed with someone who took a real crack at creating a financially viable product).
I do occasionally see postings for unpaid cs/engineering internships, posted on campus bulletin boards. They are almost never from actual, high tech companies. These postings generally come from industries accustomed to getting the free interns (publishing, fashion, and so forth) - you know "gain valuable industry experience by writing extenstions in python for our CMS). It feels good to see these posts go up later offering a bit of pay (though still generally much lower than the interns could get elsewhere).
There's a wide spectrum here. In software, it has become (especially in recent years) extremely easy to write and release an application to the world. Web sites, wireless apps, and so forth. So if you're going to work "for free", you really don't need to join a big organization to get that experience. I'm not saying there couldn't be benefits, but you could almost look at a startup as an unpaid internship working for yourself with massive upside.
On the other side of the spectrum you might find something like surgery. I heard about a man who knew how perform a procedure on infants, who was later discovered to not possess the right credentials and licensing. He had "learned by doing." I guess you could view much of medical school and residency as a non-paid (or low paid) internship in a field where many people believe it would be unconscionable to sidestep the normal training.
How hard is it to just launch your own fashion line, create your own "journalism" experience by starting a blog, and so forth? The world is opening up - certainly it's getting easier and easier to create, market, and distribute without the permission or help of a large organization. I think software is at the forefront, but certainly other fields are opening up as well.
Some people would be helped by mandating all internships be paid, but these are not the people who need the most help. The people who need the most help are the ones that would be cut off from any chance at early work experience by such a system.
The idea of everyone having a paid internship is nice, but many places will simply stop offering them if unpaid interns aren't an option.
Also, no one is forcing these students to work anywhere. Yes, market forces drive them towards an internship, but there are many internships in the market.
If unpaid internships were banned or otherwise made illegal, companies could still bring in students as volunteers, which are unpaid. They would still get the same experience and be in exactly the same position, except now they are no longer eligible for college credit and certain legal protections. How is that a better system?
Are there any compelling arguments why unpaid internships should be made illegal? If not illegal, then how should/could they be reformed?
I think as a general rule internships should be paid simply because if the company can't afford to hire an intern then they shouldn't be having one in the first place.
I realize it's a nice way to get some help for your struggling business and if someone really want to get in to a place that isn't looking for interns then it makes some sense.
If you ban unpaid internships, companies won't offer the positions anymore (as they have decided their value is zero), which means people seeking them won't be able to obtain them.
Sounds like everyone would actually be worse-off.
There have been many discussions about this between architects and these days there are just some firms that have a reputation for churning through interns for free labor... Banning them is a tense subject for many, but many have taken the stance that after some period of months/years such practices are unethical. I can't recall the AIA's official stance.
It's also possible that you decide this unpaid experience is just not worth it after all, in which case you can get a job that actually pays.
That depends upon the demand curve for internship labor. If the demand is perfectly elastic, no internships will be offered at a higher wage; if the demand is somewhat elastic, less internships will be offered; and if the demand is inelastic, the number of offered internships will be unchanged.
What we are observing is a single data point: the intersection between the supply and demand curves. We cannot extrapolate the full curves from it. That organizations aren't paying for internships under present circumstances, doesn't mean that they wouldn't pay for internships under different circumstances. All it means is that the organizations have the upper hand in the transaction.
Do you expect people to just slowly starve to death for the sheer joy of toiling away?
I graduated with a shitty major and I worked for free. I volunteered at a lab, to help get me some experience. I could've been doing something else, but hey, I couldn't get a job!
But now that I have a skill, and that skill is in demand... I'm imagining that I would just up and leave if I was told I wasn't going to get paid anything.
I would expect that people would just leave their jobs. Companies would learn that they can grab great quality employees if they pay them with profits.
It's not as complicated as you think, and I have no idea why you're trying to pin the absurd situation of people starving while toiling away on this policy. There are already lots of opportunities for people to work for free (volunteer groups, church organizations) yet we don't have people mindlessly working themselves to death.
But when you construct an intern economy in which people are paid in the hope of a future "real job", you are suppressing the number of real, paying jobs. You are thus exacerbating the labor glut in these fields.
If you give organizations the option to employ people and just randomly decide not to pay them, they will at every opportunity NOT pay time. This is basic logic... the motivators for the organization propel this behavior and the American market system will reward them for it - these economists you speak of are likely cracked.
And, as you can see in basically every position where government hasn't mandated that employers pay some minimum wage, organizations do not choose to pay people zero. Ever. They choose to pay people just enough to perform the work that needs doing. Sometimes that number is $10 per hour, sometimes that number is $24,000,000 per year.
Consider that organisations that decide not to pay their workers might very well lose out to those who do.
If Organisation A doesn't pay their workers, then all my organisation has to do to steal their productive workers is to offer a wage. Organisation A loses out and eventually has to shut down, while I and the workers win.
Once upon a time there were a lot of companies that allowed you to "get paid to surf the web!" They are all out of business or have different models because they were overvaluing those assets.
I would expect that competing organisations would do anything legal to give them a leg up over the competition, including the hiring of workers they consider productive away from the competition. It's too risky otherwise; all it takes is for some other organisation to offer wages, causing both organisations A and B to lose their productive workers.
Do you disagree with that?
Market dynamics work as you described when buyers are required to actually pay something.
I ask because, if your theory of how labor markets work is valid, it would seem that every professional sports team on the planet would be willing to reward you handsomely if you could demonstrate how this works in practice.
All periods of labor glut when it has been legal. In order for competition to force wages up (above zero, at least), there must on some level be more jobs than workers.
2. This is patently false. Even if there were 0 jobs, wages would not be zero. People simply won't work without some incentive. If I want you to go out and dig a hole in the ground, I either need to reward you for doing so, or find a way to convince you that you want to dig that hole of your own free will.
But yes, it simply shouldn't exist. Well, maybe we can allow an exemption based on age or legal dependency status for teenage kids earning extra money at a movie theater. In that case, though, the parents are basically subsidizing the movie theater.
And actually nowadays all students are forced by the University to have a short internship and it doesn't have to include a wage!
But I've decided to pay the students anyhow for 2 simple reasons:
* I want good students to apply. We are a small company.
* I want students to care more about the internship than just showing up and do the minimum.
Edit: According to this article: http://www.dailyfinance.com/2010/04/06/atlantic-publisher-ta... all atlantic interns are paid.
The corporate attitude at Atlantic Media is that people are generally expendable, and that the staff on-hand will pick up the slack when pissed off employees walk out the door. So most of the work there is performed by underpaid interns and underpaid, disgruntled employees.
I think there is nothing inherently wrong with unpaid internships. If the market price for your work is low enough to only compensate experience gained, that's perfectly fine. What's wrong with the system are more generalize than that, and there are two problems that causes it. I would break it down to A) industrial organizational problem and B) market downturn (and to an extent upturn) + inefficiency and lagging effects.
Part A is more about the over abundance of certain firms in the market supply-demand that makes it very difficult to pay interns. Since I've never worked as a unpaid-intern before (it might happen soon though :/), correct me if I'm wrong, but most of them are either in marketing, legal assistant positions, or journalism. Marketing firms that do not offer paid internships are usually small agencies that are barely able to survive on their own; same thing is true with journalism; the whole legal market has wage flooring that artificially reduces the supply of laws and therefore law firms. It seems to me that these industries needs to better allocate and either become more competitive via innovation, and people going into those industry might want to reconsider their path.
Part B is more on the fact that labor market is inherently inefficient, and in a recession, it exaggerates the underlining problem in part A. This is why we are starting to see more unpaid internship instead of flat wage cuts.
I certainly wouldn't be able to afford this if it weren't for the stipend (though I'd probably do it for less and just break even or slightly negative). The biggest thing that I think is different for my intern experience from what I hear about the horrors about unpaid interns is that I get money like a paid intern, but have the expectations of an unpaid intern. The people I work for aren't paying me, so they can't expect too much labor out of me. As far as they're concerned, their payment is in experience, so I basically got free reign to do (or watch other people do) many things that might not be productive, but I found interesting. The anecdotal evidence of my friends with paid positions had to really earn their pay and don't have anywhere near the freedom that I did. It's plausible that I just found a good internship last summer (no fetching coffee), but I would say that I personally benefited from being paid by my college and not my employer.
Had they simply looked ahead when enrolling in college, they could have seen that majoring in something like journalism, while enjoyable would lead to brutal competition and low wages. This isn't a situation all interns face, when those in finance, computers, and a few other majors are capable of demanding $25-$35k of compensation for 3 months of a summer internship, it becomes clear this is problem affecting only some industries.
Comparing it to the one internship I did while at university in the UK, where I worked at UBS for a summer and was paid enough to buy bottles of champagne at a bar on pay day to celebrate and go shopping at Harrods, it seems pretty unfair.
I partially hired him for his drive and experience, so it's hard to argue he didn't benefit from the internships, but it still doesn't sit right with me.
Both was ok for me. I was still a student, so paying a bit less than I needed to survive on that wage alone was ok. It shows appreciation of my work and trust in me.
IMO, the issue here is that labor laws prevent companies from offering unpaid internships that involve something that a business can actually benefit from or that can conceivably displace a paid employee. Ostensibly created to prevent exploitation, these labor laws actually create exploitation by effectively forcing an unpaid internship to be an exercise in busy work for any company that actually follows the law.
Note that I'm talking summer internship, when school is out, of course. I'm not proposing one should go to school, work a real job and work an internship.
This is also not to refute the idea that unpaid internships may be bad for other reasons... I'm just arguing against the idea that they're bad because they are only available to the children of the privileged.
Difficult? Yes. Unrealistic? I don't think so, based on my own experiences and those of people I've known. You'd be surprised what people can do when they're sufficiently motivated.
Hell, I had a friend in college who would walk / hitchhike the 12-14 miles or so from his home to school, and back, while simultaneously working a graveyard shift job. I also worked the same graveyard shift job and while slogging my way through college. Don't underestimate people who are truly unhappy with their circumstances and who are really committed to changing them.
The argument that the system overly benefits the wealthy is still valid.
OK, life is easier if you "come from money." I don't think this is any newsbreak, nor is the internship situation particularly special in this regard.
Try this as a thought experiment though... some kid who comes from a poor family, who has little or no wealth, who is trying to bootstrap / self-fund a startup. If he/she had the opportunity to engage some help from an unpaid intern, and the combination results in a company that ultimately raises the standard of living for the entrepreneur, and creates more paying jobs in the future (possibly including the intern in question), then isn't that a Good Thing?
What's not a worthwhile opportunity for you might be an opportunity to someone else.
Am I missing something? Seems like unpaid internships affect me and my job/economy as much as someone else eating a donut affects my weight.
In all seriousness, unpaid internships benefit no one other than the employer who gets free labor and the few students who have enough money to not care whether they get paid or not. They're not good for paid workers who now have to start salary negotiations with the other side upset that they even have to pay them at all. Nor are they good for the economy, which needs more consumer demand. And they certainly aren't good for students who are well-qualified, but can't afford to not get a pay check.
Help me understand how unpaid internships aren't a mechanism to keep the rich rich and to keep the poor from becoming productive members of society. Seriously.
If the internship does not lead to future employment at the same organization, then it might at another organization.
A bad unpaid internship should go unfilled because the intern is not gaining anything from it.
Of course this doesn't affect senior employees with twenty years of experience under their belts, but that doesn't mean it isn't a concern for the greater good.
Unpaid internships undermine the entire legal and moral principle that workers are supposed to be paid. There's a reason we have minimum-wage laws, and of course, anti-slavery laws.
A requirement of slavery is to both be forced to work and not have a choice of where you work (google it).
And don't get me started on moral principles. Moral principles are each person's own. Certainly you do not want to be held to _my_ moral principles, right? Why should anyone else be held to someone else's? If the moral principles are strong enough turn them into law.
The only question that is genuine is the law. So if the law allows unpaid internships, why whine about it?
For the record, I would not be where I am if I had not had a chance to do for free what I now do for a living. But that's just my experience.
For God's sake, how could you call yourself a moral person if you take 100% of the product of another person's labor, leaving them nothing to live on?
That's the whole point: Choice.
This is about every new hire coming in the door at $0 and thus lowering the cap on your salary progression.