Interns: the new indentured servants?

6 May

When one thinks of interns, one usually thinks of an eager young undergraduate trying to make a favorable impression on a future employer. Steven Greenhouse reported in the New York Times that the The unpaid Internships, Legal or Not

The question is whether employers caught in a vice between declining revenue and rising costs are using internships as a source of labor without having to comply with labor regulations? 

Steven Greenhouse did a follow-up article which reported about new labor regulations from California. In California Labor Depart. Revises Guidelines on When Interns Must be Paid Greenhouse reports in the New York Times about the California rules.

Greenhouse explores an even more troubling trend in his New York Times article, With Jobs Few, Internships Lure More Graduates to Unpaid Work:

Melissa Reyes, who graduated from Marist College with a degree in fashion merchandising last May, applied for a dozen jobs to no avail. She was thrilled, however, to land an internship with the Diane von Furstenberg fashion house in Manhattan. “They talked about what an excellent, educational internship program this would be,” she said.

But Ms. Reyes soon soured on the experience. She often worked 9 a.m. to 9 p.m., five days a week. “They had me running out to buy them lunch,” she said. “They had me cleaning out the closets, emptying out the past season’s items.”

Ms. Reyes finally quit when her boss demanded that she also work both days of a weekend. She now works part time as a model. Asked about her complaints, the fashion firm said, “We are very proud of our internship program, and we take all concerns of this kind very seriously.”

The Labor Department says that if employers do not want to pay their interns, the internships must resemble vocational education, the interns must work under close supervision, their work cannot be used as a substitute for regular employees and their work cannot be of immediate benefit to the employer.

But in practice, there is little to stop employers from exploiting interns. The Labor Department rarely cracks down on offenders, saying that it has limited resources and that unpaid interns are loath to file complaints for fear of jeopardizing any future job search.

No one keeps statistics on the number of college graduates taking unpaid internships, but there is widespread agreement that the number has significantly increased, not least because the jobless rate for college graduates age 24 and under has risen to 9.4 percent, the highest level since the government began keeping records in 1985. (Employment experts estimate that undergraduates work in more than one million internships a year, with Intern Bridge, a research firm, finding almost half unpaid.)

A few years ago you hardly heard about college graduates taking unpaid internships,” said Ross Eisenbrey, a vice president at the Economic Policy Institute who has done several studies on interns. “But now I’ve even heard of people taking unpaid internships after graduating from Ivy League schools.”

Matt Gioe had little luck breaking into the music and entertainment industry after graduating with a philosophy degree from Bucknell last year. To get hands-on experience, he took an unpaid position with a Manhattan talent agency that booked musical acts. He said he answered phones and looked up venues. Although he was sometimes told to make bookings, he said he received virtually no guidance on how to strike a deal or how much to charge. But the boss did sometimes ask him to run errands like buying groceries.

It was basically three wasted months,” he said.

Mr. Eisenbrey said many companies were taking advantage of the weak labor market to use unpaid interns to handle chores like photocopying or running errands once done by regular employees, which can raise sticky legal questions.

Eric Glatt, who at age 40 interned for the movie “Black Swan,” is one of the few interns with the courage to sue for wages over the work he did.

http://www.nytimes.com/2012/05/06/business/unpaid-internships-dont-always-deliver.html?hp

Before accepting an internship, the potential intern should ask some questions.

Scholarship. Com has some great questions for undergraduates in the article, With Jobs Few, Internships Lure More Graduates to Unpaid Work

When do I want to be an intern?

Most internships will last either a semester or a summer. It’s up to you to determine how much time you’re willing (and able) to take off from school to take on an internship, and when you’re able to take that time away from your academics. Summer internships will be more competitive, as more apply for those.

Can I afford to take an unpaid position?

Unfortunately, many internships out there, especially those in the communications and arts fields, are unpaid. You’ll need to ask yourself then whether you’re able to take on the added expense of an unpaid internship, as you probably won’t have time to hold down a full-time paying job in the meantime.

How independent am I?

Depending on the position, you’ll either have a lot of guidance or a lot of autonomy when it comes to your internship experience. If you know you’d like a bit more freedom, consider internships that come with some room to make that experience your own. If you know you’d like more guidance, and perhaps a mentor, find positions that would offer you that.

Will this experience help me down the road?

Outside of the obvious benefit of padding your resume, the right internship can also be your foot in the door of your chosen industry once you’ve graduated. The people you meet while at your internship may also be good contacts to have once you’re out there on job market looking for a paid full-time position.

Do I need an internship related to my major?

An internship can either reinforce your interest for your chosen field of study or could serve to give you some experience in an area you had not considered before. While you should certainly look for positions related to your major if you’re sure you’ll be sticking with that post-graduation, if you’re not sure, it may make sense to broaden your search.

What have former interns said about this position?

While an internship may seem great on paper and even better during an internship interview, you may not get an honest assessment of the experience until you talk to former interns. If the internship provider balks at the request, talk to your college’s career center; certainly there’s someone from your school who has worked with that provider in the past.

Am I willing to look beyond my city, even state, for an opportunity?

Depending on where you’re attending college, there may be better opportunities elsewhere in terms of internships, especially if you live in a college or small town with fewer internship providers. Think about whether you’d consider internships outside of your campus bubble; the competition may also be less fierce elsewhere.

Does this opportunity come with any additional benefits?

Some internships will offer a modest salary or stipend. Others may offer mileage or travel reimbursements or insurance outside of a traditional paycheck. Think about what would sweeten the deal for you and what your priorities are when looking for an internship.

Do I need academic credit?

Some internship providers will only accept applicants looking for college credit in exchange for their work there, especially if the experience is unpaid. Your college may have similar requirements for internships, so make sure you do your research to know whether you’re eligible or interested in an internship that offers academic credit.

What kinds of responsibilities will I have at this internship?

This is an important question to ask, even before you meet with the internship provider at an interview. Unless you’re just looking for any kind of experience to pad your resume with, you probably want to know what you’ll be doing day in and day out at your internship, and whether the job fits with what you’d like to do after graduation.

http://www.scholarships.com/resources/campus-life/internships/top-10-questions-to-ask-before-choosing-an-internship/

For the college graduate, the questions will focus on what skills are developed in the internship which will assist the intern in securing employment.

Case Western Reserve University has an excellent set of questions in the article, Questions to Ask an Employer:

Describe the type of work I would be doing or the types of projects I will be working on.

  • What makes this organization unique?
  • What are the short-term and long-term objectives of the organization?
  • How is the training or orientation program for new employees structured?
  • What characteristics would the ideal job candidate have for this position?
  • Can you tell me about the people/positions I would be reporting to?
  • What do you see as the most challenging aspects of the position?
  • When and how will job evaluations take place?
  • When can I expect to hear from you about my candidacy?
  • What have other [co-ops, interns, new employees] done at the company in the past?
  • How many [co-ops, interns] are typically employed by the company at one time?
  • What percentage of your [co-ops, interns] are hired after graduation?
  • What are the areas of anticipated growth for the company?
  • What is the structure of the company and how does this department fit in?
  • What are the opportunities for advancement?
  • What is your (the interviewer’s) position in the company? (Ask for a business card)
  • Does the company assist with relocation [if necessary]?
  • What is the next step in this search?
  • When can I expect to hear from you about my candidacy?
  • What skills or attributes are you seeking in a candidate that I have not addressed?

http://studentaffairs.case.edu/careers/tips/interviewing/ask.html

In a tight economy, people are desperate for just about any type of opportunity. Don’t let this desperation play into the avarice of an employer who sees the potential intern as unpaid labor with no thought of providing either training or a path to a permanent position.

This seemingly innocuous issue is a real sleeper.  

Dr. Wilda says this about that ©

2 Responses to “Interns: the new indentured servants?”

Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. N.Y. case: Unpaid interns should be paid for tasks | drwilda - June 14, 2013

    […] Before accepting an internship, the potential intern should ask some questions. https://drwilda.com/2012/05/06/interns-the-new-indentured-servants/ […]

  2. Many interns probably should be paid at least minimum wage | drwilda - December 9, 2013

    […] In Interns: the new indentured servants? Moi wrote: When one thinks of interns, one usually thinks of an eager young undergraduate trying to make a favorable impression on a future employer. Steven Greenhouse reported in the New York Times that in the article, The unpaid Internships, Legal or Not http://www.nytimes.com/2010/04/03/business/03intern.html?pagewanted=all&_r=0 The question is whether employers caught in a vice between declining revenue and rising costs are using internships as a source of labor without having to comply with labor regulations? Steven Greenhouse did a follow-up article which reported about new labor regulations from California. In California Labor Depart. Revises Guidelines on When Interns Must be Paid http://www.nytimes.com/2010/04/10/business/10interns.html Greenhouse reports in the New York Times about the California rules. Greenhouse explores an even more troubling trend in his New York Times article, With Jobs Few, Internships Lure More Graduates to Unpaid Work. http://www.nytimes.com/2012/05/06/business/unpaid-internships-dont-always-deliver.html?hp Before accepting an internship, the potential intern should ask some questions. https://drwilda.com/2012/05/06/interns-the-new-indentured-servants/ […]

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