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The Death of the Unpaid Internship

Discussion in 'General Discussion' started by Candles, Jun 17, 2013.

  1. Candles

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    So in a landmark case, it was ruled interns on the movie Black Swan were entitled to be paid for their work.

    Unpaid no more: Interns win Major Court Battle

    Focus: Internships - good and bad experiences, and what do you think of the new rulings? Changes for better or worse?
     
  2. Nom Chompsky

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    I clicked, i moved, idk
     
  3. audreymonroe

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    Since my original goal was to work in magazines, I have a whole lot of experience with and opinions about unpaid internships, so excuse me while I write an essay.

    I've had four internships - two at magazines, one with the education department of an art museum, and one at a women's shelter teaching writing and art classes/organizing artsy field trips/planning an art show.

    The Good: I recognize that, without the work that I haven't been paid for, my resume so far wouldn't be all that wonderful. My internships are probably the only reason I've even been considered for the jobs I have been paid for, and will continue to boost my resume in the future. The two magazine internships caused a few dreams to come true - they were the first experiences where I saw my name in print, and the second magazine sent me to Fashion Week to review a show, where I got to sit front row. There were plenty of smaller satisfying experiences, too, and I liked just the thrill of being in the offices and working with the staff (especially at the first magazine, where the editor-in-chief is one of my role models). The internship at the women's shelter was my favorite and most fulfilling work experience I've ever had - paid or unpaid - and introduced me to interests and passions I didn't know I had, and probably never would have discovered if I hadn't happen to stumble across the organization and ask if there were any opportunities to get involved with their arts program.

    The Bad: Not getting paid fucking sucks, especially when you're not rich and have to pay for your life in one of - if not the most - expensive city in the country. Feeling undervalued and under-appreciated fucking sucks. At the first magazine, I spent a lot of time sitting around, waiting for someone to tell me what to do or find something to do on my own, and I was usually really bored. At the second magazine, they overworked us beyond the regulations of an internship, wouldn't let us take breaks (including lunch breaks), and our immediate supervisor was a witch. Nothing totally Devil Wears Prada esque, but still left the building in tears a few times. I quit that one after two months.

    I understood from the time I decided I wanted to pursue that route that an internship was going to be a part of the deal, and was even looking forward to it. But by the time I graduated, the industry went from appreciating one internship to put you ahead of the pack, to requiring several unpaid internship over the course of a few years before even being considered for an entry-level position, and the work that was usually given to an underpaid (but still paid) editorial assistant was given to a team of interns so there weren't many positions available once I was actually looking for work.

    I would be perfectly happy to do the work that interns are now doing even if it's for a low wage - I knew what I was getting into - but they're getting away with murder with what they're using interns for now. Reading some of these internships ads are hilarious, especially when it's for some magazine, website, or organization I've never heard of. (And as a non-magazine aside, I hate - HATE - that interns read the slush piles for literary agents, so that some kid who hasn't even graduated yet decides whether or not any manuscript of mine is going to get picked up.)

    And, while I think internships would probably be really eye-opening learning experiences for people going into them with something like a general English degree, I was learning about magazine publishing specifically and I didn't come out of either internship feeling like I learned anything, except for getting some hands-on experience (which I know I can't totally brush aside, but still). I think the whole system was valuable the way it was 5-10 years ago, but has quickly escalated into a gigantic scam. It's also a shame that all of these creative industries are self-selecting their workforce into only being comprised of the wealthy people that can afford years of unpaid work in New York or L.A, so that their voice and vision keep getting narrower and less interesting.

    But, on the other hand, I'm pretty sure that most of my favorite things would no longer exist if it weren't for interns. So, on the consumer end of things, I appreciate them, I guess.
     
  4. MoreCowbell

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    For me, the worst part about unpaid internships is that they distort the talent pool. It's damn hard these days to get a decent-paying job at all, and it's a lot harder when your resume consists of working traditional summer jobs back home. This means we aren't properly allocating our best talent to our most competitive jobs.

    I work in an industry/company where we spend a large amount of effort making sure that we are employing very bright people fresh out of college. Beyond college info (what school, GPA, what classes), the next best info we have is the internships that person had. All else being equal, if someone had impressive internships, we'll assume they are smarter and more competent. Yeah, maybe they knew someone, but we can't evaluate that and we have to work with the information we're given. So what this means is that selective jobs will for the most part go to the same set of people who had selective internships.

    Some selective internships are paid (for example, most finance ones). Plenty of other ones (political stuff, publishing, media) are not. For the ones that are not, this vastly winnows the pool of people who can apply for them. The availability of funding is dramatically lower than it is for colleges, so the rich apply while the poor decide they can't afford to live in an expensive city for a summer without compensation. And some of those poor are our best and brightest.

    For various reasons, the educational and employment situations in the United States are stratified enough without unpaid internships. The last thing we need is an additional factor preventing lower-income youths from becoming qualified for good jobs.
     
  5. sisterkathlouise

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    I'm getting college credit for my internship, so I'm basically paying minimum wage to work. Now aren't you all jealous?
     
  6. Frank

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    I feel like this is a blow to my people. How are mediocre upper middle class kids suppose to compete with smart poor kids if they have almost the same opportunity as us?
     
  7. toejam

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    I scorned my bourgeois upbringing and waited tables through college instead of getting internships. In retrospect, I did tremendous damage to my early career. I did get to drink a lot and definitely slept with way more coworkers than I ever would have as an intern though. Booyah.
     
  8. Misanthropic

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    I love having interns and having them get my coffee and wash my car. And I can impart 25 years of highly developed cynicism to them, without either of us having to experience it the hard way.
     
  9. bewildered

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    I love my parents, but they are super old and I was (am?) super naive, trusting their advice completely. They did not impart wisdom about college that works for this decade. My dad went to college for physics and worked first in an army optics laboratory, then as an engineer for 30+ years (something that probably would not be able to happen in this day and time). My mom didn't go to college. The wisdom of their day was that you go to school and that nearly any degree would get you a job, doubly so for a science degree. Jobs were expected during the summers to provide your fun money for the rest of the year. Internships? What are those?

    Well, here I am, jobless with my biology degree. The idea of an internship wasn't even on the radar. My two options at this point are either to find a shitty free (low paying if I'm lucky) internship when we move back, as an adult with financial responsibilities, or get a job totally out of my field that I can jump into, like an admin assistant or a McDonald's cashier. Hooray.

    Sorry. I am whiskey'ing it up and super depressed over the job thing right now. Part of it is my fault and part of it is the economy. Anyway, I am just bitching now.

    I definitely think that internships should be paid. The "system," if you want to call it that, is set up so that even as a college grad you are expected to have experience coming in. It is pretty shitty to expect college kids to work for free at the hope of a chance at a job, and I think employers take advantage of that need. Free internships are a rich kid's game. If you have all your needs and wants supported by someone else, then great, but that is less and less the case, especially since even to have a shitty entry level job it is expected that you have some sort of college background.
     
  10. downndirty

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    I always thought (seriously) that internships were for college credit. You were basically getting credits that cost you more time and less money, but resulted in job skills. Anything other than that was volunteering, because you were not guaranteed any marketable skills afterwards. In that system, my internships were great. They guaranteed me a job after graduating, they often successfully discouraged you from a bullshit job, and they shattered a lot of illusions about the importance of the shit I was learning.

    With that said, if you've graduated and they expect you to work for free, that's a scam. Call it volunteering, or if it's part of a selection process then pay them, but don't pretend that because business is hard you don't have to pay people. The shittiest part of this is that the people who are able to do this kind of thing are the most passionate and idealistic about what they want to do. Why shatter their dreams and force them deeper into poverty to pursue a job when they can just do meth instead? Christ, America....
     
  11. Noland

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    Someone needs to find Eric Glatt and explain that working for zero dollars is a more lucrative use of his time than spending 100,000 plus dollars to go to law school to find a job that will take ten years of living under a bridge to pay for that education.

    Given this kid's success at this particular stupid lawsuit, I'll put money down that this guy's picture is going to be on a billboard hustling car accidents in five years.

    The question the article doesn't answer is whether he knew it was an unpaid internship when he applied. If he did and then turned around and filed suit because he didn't get paid, then fuck him. If he thought it was a paid internship and they told him it wasn't when he walked in the door then he should have quit and, if he didn't and, with eyes wide open, worked for no money and then turned around and filed suit because he felt he should have been paid, then fuck him.

    Fuck this kid.

    I do think there is a bright side that this might open some doors to internships for broke college students rather than just trust fund babies and resolve some of the issues Cowbell was discussing. It could also have the exact opposite effect.
     
  12. jordan_paul

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    My girlfriends veterinary internship was a paid internship. A whopping $250 a month. She had to fly across the country to get there too.
     
  13. zzr

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    When I was in engineering school I had a summer internship between my sophomore and junior year. The company paid $8/hr, which was 2.39 times the minimum wage at the time. In today's dollars it would be $17.31/hr, plus they paid for an apartment (on a golf course) that three of us shared for the summer. I wouldn't have taken an unpaid internship, and I don't know any engineering students who did. All the positions were paid.

    I had friends who went to law school after college and had summer internships working for an intellectual property law firm in Chicago. They made $4000/month in the early 90's. I guess things have changed.
     
  14. katokoch

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    I had two internships doing sales and marketing for startup companies during college. Both paid $10/hour. The first one was terrible and the second was great. Both were very good learning experiences and I'm glad I did them despite how bad the first one was at times. I had opportunities to do unpaid internships but since I'm not a trust fund kid, I'd rather shingle roofs or trim trees all summer than be homeless (or move back in with my parents).

    A major mistake I made with the first internship was agreeing to working without overtime pay. That was when I was doing 30 hours/week for them and not surprisingly I was doing 80-100 hour work weeks within a month of starting with them. There were two other interns and they quit, so I took their responsibilities in addition to mine. When I started the company had a dozen employees and when I quit, there were three left. The CEO treated people like shit and he was/is a walking, talking lesson on how to NOT run a business.

    I was hired by the first company I interviewed with after graduating and I strongly believe the experience and recommendations I got from those internships played a major role in me landing my job.
     
  15. ssycko

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    You're missing the point. It's not that it's paid vs. unpaid. Companies sell these internships as "great learning experiences" where you'll "make lots of great contacts." What ends up happening is that you end up getting coffee and making copies and don't actually learn anything.

    Internships are supposed to be on-the-job training that benefits the intern with job experience he wouldn't otherwise get. Unpaid interns for movies and TV rarely get any of this in the current system.
     
  16. MoreCowbell

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    For the most part, that's only true for internships that are directly applicable to a very specific course of study. For example, a nursing major might be able to get credit for working in as a nursing intern, but generally, schools don't consider internships to be sufficiently academic for credit. This is from my school, and is probably typical for similar schools:

    Keep in mind, the average course counts for either 3 or 4 credits (120 required for a degree), and a student applying for jobs typically needs multiple internshps. Also, this "course" includes additional required reading/writing assignments.

    As to whether the people knew it was an unpaid internship, even if they do, there are still problems:
    (1) Unpaid internships are, under federal labor law, supposed to be exclusively for the benefit of the student. If they are doing work that, absent the presence of interns, would be done by paid employees, that is work and should be compensated as such.
    (2) If we now live in a world where getting a decent job effectively requires several internships, do students really have a choice? By effectively demanding these internships of their post-college hires, these companies are effectively creating their own unpaid labor supply.
     
  17. Crown Royal

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    I never even been close to internships before, but I need to ask in all seriousness: how does a company worth millions or billions justify not paying somebody for a job that other people in other places DO get paid for just because they're young?

    It almost sounds like they're sugar-coating slave labour. Not to say that they are, but the entire thing rings of cheap and sleazy.
     
  18. MoreCowbell

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    Industry standards and applicanbt desperation. In some industries, the standard is you get paid and handsomely (engineering and finance come to mind), so other companies have to pay to compete. In others, the standard is your don't, so even the most profitable companies can get away with not paying. It isn't that they can't afford it, it's that a place like Fox Searchlight doesn't need to since the applications will come in anyway.
     
  19. Frank

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    Pretty much this. And honestly I'd have happily taken an unpaid internship if it opened the right doors. In my industry* an internship could easily mean starting out with more job prospects and a salary noticeably higher than your peers, it's a lay up really.

    The real issue I have with it is not the "slave labor" aspect of it, but as Cowbell pointed out earlier, it's the fact that kids who can't (or in many cases, think they can't) afford not to earn a wage during the summer are at an even further disadvantage.

    *I don't think there ARE any actual unpaid internships in my industry, but if there were, they'd probably be worth it.
     
  20. Chellie

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    I require an unpaid internship to graduate. My best friend and room mate is doing hers now, and has me dreading mine. The doctor she is assisting is one who's constantly applying to the college for students, and now we know why... unpaid labour to do nothing more than stuff envelopes, answer the phone, and act as bitch for the one full time staff member he has, who's been working there for a year and is still making minimum wage. She has 0 chance of it turning into a job, and it's teaching her exactly nothing about the practical application of her education. Her experience has left me less than enthusiastic about my impending practicum; Unapplicable work 'skills' plus an inability to pay my bills. Oh joy!