I’ve read in utter disbelief the multiple articles coming out of the New York Times around unpaid internships.
Repeatedly the articles point to “abuse” and “free labor” yet rarely (if ever) tell an internship success story or how internships actually help create a more trained workforce and may in fact be one solution to the economic crisis this country faces.
I was recently interviewed for an article in your paper around internships and was surprised to see that the article repeatedly referenced Ross Perlin’s book, “Intern Nation,” which is a one-sided look at the issue. While it’s an in-depth look at internships, nowhere does his book provide a solution to the reality facing our nation – new workers who are entering the workforce are woefully under-prepared and are the largest percentage of unemployed.
So the solution, according to Perlin, is to end all internships. All that will do is make on the job training inaccessible for new workers. Internships are just one way that someone who is hardworking and motivated can set themselves apart from their peers who may be wealthier or have more connections.
Most concerning is that you reference Mr. Perlin as an “expert” in the field of internships when, in fact outside of his “best selling book” I see no record of expertise or experience in the intern industry.
Specifically I cannot find (though it may exist – you are the reporters, so I’ll leave it to you to prove me wrong):
- Any instance that he has employed or managed an intern
- Any expertise in the area of human resources or career consulting
- Any proof that he runs an internship placement or matching site
- Any proof that he’s worked in the government in the area of labor laws or has any experience in labor policy
- Any proof that he is in fact a faculty or staff member of an institution of higher education
What I do know to be sure is that he has degrees from Stanford and Cambridge, is currently working on a “Himalayan Languages Project” in southwest China and participated in one internship during his Masters program in England.
He did an incredible job researching the field of internships, something that to date had not been done. He’s also elevated discussions around the topic and I commend him for that.
However, should he have the absolute right to speak on behalf of thousands of students and recent grads that face a bleak professional future in the US and abroad?
In the for-profit world we would consider Mr. Perlin a genius marketer who quickly become an “expert” in a subject he knows little about from first hand experience. Look around you (you simply need only go to Amazon.com); anyone can be a published author on a subject.
As you are The New York Times I would have expected you to understand this but it seems that he is your primary source of “expert” information these days.
In fact, his marketing reach is so strong that I’ve been told his book is now recommended reading for those students taking an internship for credit at some schools.
That’s a great idea, make the future intern feel like their internship is a waste of time and create more of an “entitlement” mentality before the Gen Y’er even steps foot into the employer’s office, further encouraging a stereotype that many Gen X and Boomers absolutely abhor. I frequently hear this from business owners I work with as an objection to hiring interns or even wanting Gen Y’ers in their office – “they have an incredible sense of entitlement.”
My personal experience with Gen Y’ers is contrary to the prevailing belief. I have worked with unpaid interns who desperately wanted some experience with a company who invested in them personally and provided extensive on the job training. I’ve seen enthusiasm and grace; excitement at applying what they’ve learned in the classroom to a real world application; and the drive to do great things and learn as much as possible.
You also have reported that interns are in fact now displacing workers. In this economy jobs are hard to come by, much less internships. Due to the Labor Law crack down on internships many businesses have even abandoned internship programs for fear of being “sued” as you have often covered. Take Mark Cuban, owner of the reigning NBA champions, the Dallas Mavericks, who is an incredible businessman, and someone most professionals (young and old) would die to have as a mentor; he gave up on offering internships and publicly spoke out on the issue and stopped offering internships.
The amount of people searching for an internship far outweighs the amount of companies willing to offer an internship. A lot of companies are unwilling to stick their necks out to offer an internship out for fear of legal retribution; un-prepared to take the time and resources to actually recruit interns (most only stay for four months) and finally, reluctant to take the time and resources to actually train an intern who will leave their company within, on average, four months.
Let’s think about this logically. As a business owner (or government entity or non-profit – I don’t discriminate, unlike the Federal government), if I have a “job” that I need done that realistically would entail a part to full time person working consistently on a daily basis five days a week would I hire an intern? Probably not, it just doesn’t make business sense.
I would likely go out and hire someone that would be on my staff or part of my contractor workforce who would consistently be a resource for me.
Now consider I have projects that are finite and defined that an intern can come onto my team, work on a project or task with a purpose and outcome and actually learn something while they are doing this task? Now also consider the business owner gets some “immediate advantage” to this as well? Is that wrong? Shouldn’t the employer get a benefit from the experience as well after taking the time to mentor the intern, provide him training and showing him how his organization works?
Instead of focusing on the negatives of internships I would suggest you consider looking at solutions to the most important problem facing our nation – a very unprepared workforce and a high unemployment rate amongst 19-24 year olds, versus the few unpaid internship abuses – though I’m sure they make for more interesting news.
Consider looking at the apprenticeship model that the United Kingdom has begun to explore more extensively (and others, like Germany, have seen success from – could this be the reason they are keeping Europe afloat?).
Take a look at Canada’s program that provides grants to small businesses to hire interns and provide a portion of the intern’s salary.
Consider new forms of internships like virtual internships that allow for more students to take internships because of the incredible flexibility and low cost of taking on a virtual internship, allowing for a more level playing field between the haves and have-nots of internships.
We recently released a White Paper on Virtual Internships exploring the pros and cons and the training opportunities they provide in an increasingly global and virtual professional environment. And soon after our White Paper was released Colombia University announced the first ever virtual internship program offered at a college or university.
Consider highlighting past and present interns and success stories – and more importantly why their internships helped them be successful.
For example HuffingtonPost.com’s review of interns before they were famous interns and Inc.com’s famous interns expose. Or simply follow real interns in the real world and do a “where are they now” follow up piece.
Consider consulting for future articles experts in the field of internships and create discussions on how we can provide opportunities for our nation’s youth to help rebuild our economy, including: Robin Richards, CEO of Internships.com; Michael True, Director, Internship Center, Messiah College and Founder of InternQube; the National Association of Colleges and Employers; the Departments of Labor, Commerce and Education; and finally AfterCollege.com’s partnership with the White House’s Summer Jobs+ 2012 program.
In closing and speaking personally, I was not rich nor was I connected. I paid my own way through college working several jobs during the year and summers. However, I did complete both an internship and an externship (what some now call “winterships”) – both unpaid.
I did this over 15 years ago before internships were as “en vogue” or required by schools as they are today. I did this because I wanted to get ahead. I wanted to find a job and have something on my resume that said I could do more than serve drinks, walk a dog or keep your kid safe while swimming in the community pool.
I knew that hard work paid off and that if I paid my dues good things would come my way.
And I’d guess that the majority of interns (at least the twenty five I know and have worked with over the last few years) are the same as me. However the difference now is that most are working full time jobs and still graduating with incredible debt, with limited chances of finding a real job to pay off those college loans.
We’ve had interns go on to do great things. Including our intern, Mike O’Donnell, an inspiring entrepreneur, who, within one year of graduating, has started his own marketing business.
Could internships be a solution to the economic conditions our country and the rest of the world faces? Could good internships, where the intern is engaged in real work and projects to help build a company or organization actually create more jobs – maybe even allow the intern to create his or her own job? I believe they can.
In closing I’d also like to highlight that you, in fact, have your own unpaid internship program.
I assume you have this internship program so that future journalists can come work for one of the best newspapers in the world and get on the job training. I assume that your employees and managers spend a significant amount of time mentoring these individuals and training them on how to be the best journalist for the best newspaper.
I’m also assuming you use this program as a way to recruit new reporters for your paper. I’m sure that the interns you employ go on to do great things professionally and you also get something out of this relationship as well – making an unpaid internship agreement fair.
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Co-Founder of Intern Profits, showing organizations how to find, hire and manage interns to grow their business while providing educational opportunities for tomorrow’s talent today!
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