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"How Unpaid Internships Perpetuate Rampant Inequality in the US," by Anna Lekas Miller

Recent graduates, disturbed by the dearth of job opportunities, began to take internships as a last resort to stay competitive in the labor market. Although an internship used to be akin to an apprenticeship—a temporary stint of unpaid, hands-on labor resulting in an eventual job offer—the explosion of both college students and recent graduates taking internships no longer guarantees a paid position. Instead, as more and more young people demonstrated they were willing to supply an unpaid labor force so long as it was framed as an “internship,” internships have become a means for companies and non-profit organizations to re-package once paying jobs and cut corners in a tight economy.

Internships are the new entry-level job—the same duties and basic experience, only this time without compensation or benefits.
Unpaid internships were common when I was in college in the early 1980s, but I refused to take one. I had an idea that it was important for me to work for a paycheck. Nevertheless, my parents and I paid for my first career job in three ways: (1) I got a bachelor's degree (my parents paid my tuition); (2) I went to the Denver Publishing Institute summer program (my parents paid my tuition); (3) I took an entry level publishing job that paid $10K a year to start, which didn't cover my expenses (and my expenses didn't include student loans). However, the job did have health benefits.

I see that the long and venerable tradition of paying for entry into a career path continues, although it sounds like it's somewhat worse than it used to be. Another excerpt:
It's becoming more and more expected for college students to have had at least one, if not several, internships by the time they graduate. Students that come from a privileged background, with parents who are willing and able to finance sometimes serial internships, are able to survive in internship culture financially unscathed. Eventually, they intern for long enough to make the connections necessary to break into the white-collar world. But students from lower- or even middle-income backgrounds feel financially stressed taking on unpaid work, but many do anyway to compete with their more privileged peers in the job market.
From: [identity profile]
Something that a lot of college students don't know, too, is that it's necessary to start getting work experience before even leaving college, and also to market one's self. I think that many college graduates expect that a job will just be waiting for them. Many don't realize that the unpaid work and networking can and should be done while still in school, and this is especially possible in fields that don't require legal certifications (for example, graphic design; one can build their portfolio and network long before they even graduate). Even fields that -do- require certification (for example, nursing and law) often have some lower level certification (such as CNA and paralegal) that can help them work and network in the field before they graduate. That's much smarter than going to work for Starbuck's while in college. You'd be amazed how many of these people never work in their field and then they invest so much money and end up so totally clueless about what the work is like let alone how to get a job, when the paralegal who worked his way through law school already knows people and has some clue of what he is about.

It should be necessary to complete career path workshops and the like as a condition of having a student loan.

Both the public universities and the higher-end liberal arts privates (as opposed to ones that are career-focused) suck in this regard.
Edited Date: 12 Oct 2011 02:15 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
Oh, and having just read the article, thought I'd add this...

Many of those priveleged students -don't- do internships while still in school. I know several of these students. Thing is, our college isn't our parents' college. It seems best to use college as an enhancement to existing qualifications, not as the qualification itself. College isn't going to funnel one into a job. It may be better to take eight months to a year to learn a trade before entering college, instead of working one's way through as a barista. Many young students and grads are not very flexible.

I may make a blog entry about this.
From: [identity profile]
That's a time honored way of doing things, getting a foot in the door with a different kind of job.

My understanding of a lot of internships is that frequently, you end up doing totally unrelated work and learning nothing.

Fortunately, my school's (design) internship program is for its own in house design team and it's actually required for the AA and is exclusively design projects (some of which pay, if our design is picked). I'm not sure I'd get better experience as a junior/senior intern working for a large company.


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