Internships: Today’s Slave Work?


image from BunkerLawGroup

Internship programs are not adequately preparing their interns with the necessary skills required to thrive in a career. Many work tirelessly and are not properly compensated. The focus is no longer on the intern, but the employers finding free labor within a difficult job market.

Internship programs were established to give people an opportunity to be part of the workforce and gain vital experience. It is also a time to make essential connections with future employers. They have been considered excellent resume builders that increase the marketability of an individual. In an article by Jennifer Bay she describes her idea of an internship’s purpose by saying “Internships or experiential learning situations are popular ways for universities to address student desire for career preparation”. She also suggests that all the work must be relevant to what the rest of the workplace is doing.  Sadly, her view is overly idealistic and does not align with the true nature of these practices.

One of the main issues is the lack of payment interns receive. Compensation is not required for an individual’s efforts if the employers stay within the Labor Department’s guidelines. According to an article from The New York Times, “The Labor Department says that if employers do not want to pay their interns, the internships must resemble vocational education… cannot not be of immediate benefit to the employer” (Greenhouse). Specific boundaries have been set, yet little is stopping employers from exploiting their interns. In an article from TIME , Diana Wang recounts her experience interning and how the company took advantage of her. Like many others, she too was given jobs that make the intern feel that they are not contributing to the progression of the business. This has become one of the largest stigmas associated with interning. The coffee mug above gives a comedic example of a ‘job’ an intern might be given. It shows a green coffee mug that reads “Fill This, Intern.” This shows how widespread the belief is that interns are forced to do tasks that waste their talents, and provides no educational experience. It makes an individual seem inconsequential and worthless.


Image from PBS

These recognized issues are not stopping many students. With the unemployment rate at an all time high, students with little to no resume continue to flock towards these “opportunities”. However, the demanding schedule leaves no room for one to find a second, paid job. While some are completing meaningless tasks, others are operating on the same caliber as the rest of the employees. With the majority of their time spent slaving away, while trying to sustain themselves, it can be very easy for one to quickly fall into debt.  This image shows just how terrifying debt is and how it can easily creep on one if they are not careful. Juggling all the responsibilities of work and home life, especially if one is newly independent, can quickly becoming overwhelming. Having no source of income only adds to the anxiety.

Employers do not have free reign over how they treat their interns. Intern Nation by Ross Perlin lists the required criteria that must be met.  The rules are meant to ensure that the employer and employee have a clear understanding of the extent of their duties and give fair compensation for these efforts. Perlin says, “…but if even one of the six criteria is not met, the internship is legally considered a job, bringing the benefits of the minimum wage, overtime pay, and associated rights.”. The same article from Time shares the story of Eric Glatt , who worked on set for the film Black Swan. His job was not even listed as an intern. He was listed as an accounting clerk. He was working full days in a position that is normally paid. It resulted in Glatt filing a lawsuit against Fox Searchlight. People, such as him, are bravely leading the charge toward fair treatment.

Interning is not an unsalvageable practice. Many programs that run through universities are highly structured and provide educational experiences. Internships can often build into the curriculum and work toward better understanding of a concept. A scholarly article that came out of Wayne State University  shows us how a highly structured internship that’s organized by the school can be a worthy time investment. Three examples are given of students who attended the University. All of the internships directly aligned with their respective majors. These interns were also paid. “This position is taken for a sound sociological reason: it teaches the intern and the sponsor that sociological skills deserve and require compensation” (Kelly). It teaches the students what to expect when working and sets a standard so they accept no less than they deserve.  This scholarly article is a perfect example of how an internship program can run at the optimal efficiency.

Internship programs have the potential to be the perfect transition between school and full- time employment. However, The system is still imperfect and people have been allowed to slip by without facing the consequences. Not all internship programs are corrupt or unfair, but enough evidence is present to support the claim that interning is not always the best course of action and may not be the best place to invest one’s time and energy.

Works Cited

The Uneven Playing Field of Unpaid Internships.” Cartoon. PBS. PBS, 09 May 2012. Web. 25 Oct. 2012.

Unpaid Internships and Small Businesses. N.d. Photograph. Unpaid Internships. Web. 30 Oct. 2012.

Perlin, Ross. Intern Nation: How to Earn Nothing and Learn Little in the Brave New Economy. London: Verso, 2011. Print

Greenhouse, Steven. “Jobs Few, Grads Flock to Unpaid Internships.” 6 May 2012: n. pag. The New York Times. The New York Times, 05 May 2012. Web. 9 Oct. 2012.

Sanburn, Josh. “The Beginning of the End of the Unpaid Internship.” N.p., 2 May 2012. Web. 30 Oct. 2012.

Bay, Jennifer. Preparing Undergraduates for Careers: An Argument for the Internship Practicum. N.p., Nov. 2006. Web.

Kelly, Robert F. Teaching Graduate Applied Sociology Through Internships: Program Development, Management, and Problems. N.p., n.d. Web.

Loretto, Penny. “New Department of Labor Guidelines on Internships.” Internships. N.p., n.d. Web. 11 Dec. 2012.
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