Thursday, April 8, 2010

on the job training?

... or slave labor. Is an internship by any other name, well, still an internship? You choose.

Is the experience worth the (lack of) paycheck? Or are eager college kids -- in a down economy -- being taken advantage of by everyone on the j-side from Huffington Post (which once auctioned off an internship to the highest bidder at a charity auction) to Rolling Stone.

Go here to read a New York Times piece questioning the legality of unpaid internships. The piece also points out that many unpaid internships often have little experiential value as well as also pondering whether kids from wealthy families end up getting an unfair leg up the career ladder. From the story:

One Ivy League student said she spent an unpaid three-month internship at a magazine packaging and shipping 20 or 40 apparel samples a day back to fashion houses that had provided them for photo shoots.

At Little Airplane, a Manhattan children’s film company, an N.Y.U. student who hoped to work in animation during her unpaid internship said she was instead assigned to the facilities department and ordered to wipe the door handles each day to minimize the spread of swine flu.

Tone Thyne, a senior producer at Little Airplane, said its internships were usually highly educational and often led to good jobs.

Concerned about the effect on their future job prospects, some unpaid interns declined to give their names or to name their employers when they described their experiences in interviews.

While many colleges are accepting more moderate- and low-income students to increase economic mobility, many students and administrators complain that the growth in unpaid internships undercuts that effort by favoring well-to-do and well-connected students, speeding their climb up the career ladder.

Sticking with the publishing side, Daily Finance blogger Jeff Bercovici notes that The Atlantic, possibly red-faced after the Times' piece, has announced that it will start paying its interns. But he also includes some horror stories about pubs that don't -- despite the fact that the law says employers must provide either cash or college credit along with meaningful work:

But many other companies employ interns who receive neither cash nor credit -- even though such an arrangement falls into exactly the legal "grey zone" Atlantic Media is exiting. A search of online job listings in magazine publishing turns up plenty of unpaid internships for non-students, although in most cases credit can be had for those who want it. A listing for a fashion internship at Interview magazine specifically states, "College credit is not required," while one at Us Weekly merely says credit is "available." It's not much different in online media: A spokesman for the Huffington Post says the site " has both paid and unpaid interns, who work at the site for the training, experience, and exposure." Adds the spokesman, "We're careful to follow all employment guidelines."

Those guidelines, however, are fairly subjective and, taken literally, rather unfavorable to employers. They require, among other things, that any company employing unpaid interns derive "no immediate advantage" from the work they do to ensure that the emphasis is on job training, not exploitation. That rule seems to be honored mostly in the breach at places like Rolling Stone, which is owned by the same company as Us Weekly, Wenner Media. A former intern there says her job was mostly transcribing interview tapes and fetching coffee for editors.


Caitlin said...

I have been looking into internship possibilities (in print publications) in my home town, but I can't seem to find any that are paid. Most require long working days without flexible hours. I don't understand how they expect students to survive... should I be working two jobs at the age of 19? I would rather forgo the "work experience" and get paid to work at my local cafe instead. If I get stuck disinfecting doorknobs, at least I'll be paid for it.

Samantha said...

Surprisingly, I've had quite the opposite experience. I received a paid internship last summer in Oracle's marketing department, but my major fear was that I would end up having an experience much like the ones described in the blog entry. But again, I was pleasantly surprised because I was treated more like an employee than a 20-year-old intern. But now because I have an interest in journalism, I am taking your advice and talking to one of the professors in the Comm Department as to some internship opportunities over summer.