It’s quite amusing to me that there is such a sudden outcry and debate over the fairness and legality of internships. Point blank: if I (and many others) didn’t have the opportunity to intern, there would probably be no Iza the PR Gal… it would be more like Iza the cook, or Iza the electrician (I was an “apprentice” with my dad throughout breaks in college), or even Iza the lifeguard going on almost a decade. Ahem…
Although I loved and respected waitressing, lifeguarding and working alongside my father because I learned in all of these instances, I can wholeheartedly now admit that those things seem uncanny in my path of life. The most important point however, is that I would never be able to realize this unless the businesses that took me in as an intern took the chance of teaching me the ways of their businesses.
So think about this: A professor makes a profit because you pay them to teach you. Why then, does a business owner suddenly have to pay an intern (aka student—all the same) when they are completely inexperienced and sometimes tough to deal with?
Not to sound like a broken record, but everyone has struggled in this tough economy and if many small businesses had to pay cash to inexperienced interns and dedicate their valuable, productive time—I believe that they would simply decide to not even deal with internship programs and this would be a disservice to the future workforce.
Bureaucracy has gotten in the way of the basic point of internships: to learn if a certain field of work is compatible with a student’s future ambitions. Even if you are a college graduate with a degree, it’s not like a business owner forced you to take the internship, you chose that path to learn. The piece below is taken from the Employment and Training Administration Advisory System from the U.S. department of Labor, included in the New York Times article, The Unpaid Intern, Legal or Not by Steven Greenhouse.
The U.S. Department of Labor’s Wage and Hour Division (WHD) has developed the six factors below to evaluate whether a worker is a trainee or an employee for purposes of the FLSA:
1. The training, even though it includes actual operation of the facilities of the employer, is similar to what would be given in a vocational school or academic educational instruction;
2. The training is for the benefit of the trainees;
3. The trainees do not displace regular employees, but work under their close observation;
4. The employer that provides the training derives no immediate advantage from the activities of the trainees, and on occasion the employer’s operations may actually be impeded;
5. The trainees are not necessarily entitled to a job at the conclusion of the training period; and
6. The employer and the trainees understand that the trainees are not entitled to wages for the time spent in training.
As stated in the article (I’m also not denying that some employers might take advantage of interns as a supplement to hiring a full staff, because I have heard horror stories from friends along the way), these six factors seem hard to misinterpret by the average person.
I believe that unpaid internships are completely fair, and students need to be prepared to sacrifice their few months and, simply, suck it up. Apprenticeships, internships, whatever you want to call it, have been around since the beginning of time. You signed up for it! As for employers, don’t make your interns get you coffee or clean your bathrooms because if you do—I can positively say: FAIL.
I’d love to know: What do you think of internships? Did you have a bad or good experience? What could have made it better?