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Are you a slave?
August 10, 2012 8:10 AM   Subscribe

Asking young people: It’s Just Business: How Corporate America Made Slaves of the Young And for discussion is this the only time in our history that it has occurred?
posted by robbyrobs (64 comments total) 25 users marked this as a favorite

 
My friend did waterboard the new interns at his job. Only once they asked to be waterboarded of course...
posted by Chekhovian at 8:19 AM on August 10, 2012 [1 favorite]


My friend did waterboard the new interns at his job. Only once they asked to be waterboarded of course...

Well, you have to admit it proved they were ready for middle managmeent.
posted by Roentgen at 8:23 AM on August 10, 2012


Interns, few of whom receive a paycheck or benefits, can be found performing a wide variety of duties, including data entry, filing, writing copy and running social media campaigns.

What do you mean they don't receive benefits? If they do their job well enough, they could eventually petition for their freedom. If they succeed, they would become liberti and any child born from then on would have all the rights and responsibilities of any other Roman citizen.
posted by griphus at 8:25 AM on August 10, 2012 [49 favorites]


And for discussion is this the only time in our history that it has occurred?

What do you think unions were created for?
posted by zombieflanders at 8:25 AM on August 10, 2012 [29 favorites]


> Interns are usually desperate, and companies exploit that.

We are all interns now.
posted by "But who are the Chefs?" at 8:26 AM on August 10, 2012 [6 favorites]


Also, the article misses a pretty significant aspect of the unpaid internship system, in that it keeps the poor in their place. A kid who went to college by way of financial aid and scholarships can't afford to take an unpaid internship. It may be possible during the summer, if they're not working. After graduation? If they can't move back home, an unpaid internship may as well be unemployment.
posted by griphus at 8:31 AM on August 10, 2012 [37 favorites]


griphus: A kid who went to college by way of financial aid and scholarships can't afford to take an unpaid internship.

Coming soon: Internship loans!
posted by qxntpqbbbqxl at 8:39 AM on August 10, 2012 [27 favorites]


Steve: [handing Ned a gun] Here.
Ned: Oh, no, no, no.
Steve: No exceptions. Everyone gets one. Anne-Marie! Do the interns get glocks?
Anne-Marie: No. They all share one.


But on a serious note:
Some employers feel that an unpaid intern has received enough reward by simply being hired...

THIS.
posted by Chekhovian at 8:39 AM on August 10, 2012 [2 favorites]


Recently a story has been going around tech circles in Atlanta about a startup that's been bringing in interns from Georgia Tech to do almost all their development, and requiring them to sign a noncompete. If that's not the very definition of 'gall', I don't know what is.
posted by deadmessenger at 8:41 AM on August 10, 2012 [10 favorites]



Also, the article misses a pretty significant aspect of the unpaid internship system, in that it keeps the poor in their place.


That is true, that is makes it very difficult for someone without a parent to bankroll to get into certain industries like publishing, but I also think it's very interesting what it does to rich kids. Full disclosure that I went to high school with some very rich kids and now that all of us are in our mid-twenties, I find a lot of those who took internships are still pretty far behind in their careers and still need money from their parents. This is despite coming from the highest point of privilege in America. They came from wealthy families, went to good schools, but they are still in low-level positions. They thought that if they temporarily got some money from their parents and took that internship that it would help them launch a career. But they didn't get mentorship and a head start, they mostly became menial labor. Even in tech where you would assume people would learn something, they end up doing the kind of very basic tasks that companies would probably otherwise outsource and not progressing beyond that.

I was angry my parents thought unpaid internships were stupid, but it forced me to find something else to do that ended up being an actual career.
posted by melissam at 8:44 AM on August 10, 2012 [9 favorites]


I think indentured servitude is a better analogy.
posted by cjorgensen at 8:48 AM on August 10, 2012 [2 favorites]


How do you start an interns' union?
posted by Grimp0teuthis at 8:50 AM on August 10, 2012 [1 favorite]


Internships need a complete overhaul. They do have a place, but an internship should never include doing any sort of labor that is non-educational. Which means no clerical, data entry, or "going for coffee."
posted by GenjiandProust at 8:51 AM on August 10, 2012 [5 favorites]


Well, I certainly expect this to result in some bitten asses. And I don't mean interns. Non-compete, without a salary? Sounds rather iffy, but I'm no lawyer. But there is more than one way to bite.
posted by Goofyy at 8:52 AM on August 10, 2012


They do have a place, but an internship should never include doing any sort of labor that is non-educational.

If somebody's work is worth more than nothing, you pay them for it, full stop. If a business can't exist without free labor, it's death will not make the rest of us worse for it.
posted by mhoye at 8:55 AM on August 10, 2012 [20 favorites]


Unpaid internships could be workable if there was room and board involved, but that leads to a completely different problem.
posted by griphus at 8:56 AM on August 10, 2012


Internships need a complete overhaul. They do have a place, but an internship should never include doing any sort of labor that is non-educational. Which means no clerical, data entry, or "going for coffee."

I'm pretty sure laws about this are already on the books, in many US states if not federally. (Don't know about other countries.) The problem is that they aren't enforced, and it would be both difficult and politically unpopular to start.
posted by vogon_poet at 8:58 AM on August 10, 2012 [1 favorite]


If somebody's work is worth more than nothing, you pay them for it, full stop.

The American big business dream is to get people into a position of dependence on you and then squeeze as hard as you can.
posted by benito.strauss at 9:01 AM on August 10, 2012


Interns in the software world are usually paid -- sometimes quite well. I made $25/hr in my last college internship, and I didn't really do anything at that job other than try to keep up with people who were much smarter and more experienced than me.

But I don't really understand unpaid internships. If your organization doesn't value your work enough to pay you, then why would they judge you as having enough experience to hire you after the internship is over? It just doesn't make sense.

Also, I don't understand why poor kids would want the right to be just as exploited as rich kids.
posted by miyabo at 9:01 AM on August 10, 2012


Are there any industries other than engineering that actually pay their interns? I had an eight-month internship my junior year of college, and they paid me a serious wage, housing stipend, and I was eligible for all of the health insurance and other benefits the company provided (no vacation time, though). I made enough that I was able to live off my savings for my final year of college.

At my current employer we absolutely pay our interns, and have even had some turn us down because they could make more money at other firms.
posted by backseatpilot at 9:03 AM on August 10, 2012 [3 favorites]


More companies should follow the example of Penny Arcade, which pays its interns $7500 a DAY.

Oh wait, read that wrong. You pay them.
posted by Legomancer at 9:04 AM on August 10, 2012 [1 favorite]


> Coming soon: Internship loans!

Seriously, between two and five years from now when that's actually a thing and we have (in our frog-in-a-pan-of-water way) accepted it as the new normal, you'll be incredulously telling people that it wasn't so long ago that you proposed it as a joke.
posted by George_Spiggott at 9:07 AM on August 10, 2012 [10 favorites]


Oh wait, read that wrong. You pay them.

The punchline is the "you arrange travel" part.
posted by griphus at 9:08 AM on August 10, 2012


Congress won't pass a fix because it can't function without an army of thousands of free interns. (Someone has to sort and reply to your astroturf letters and phone calls.)
posted by Hollywood Upstairs Medical College at 9:14 AM on August 10, 2012


Full disclosure that I went to high school with some very rich kids and now that all of us are in our mid-twenties, I find a lot of those who took internships are still pretty far behind in their careers and still need money from their parents. This is despite coming from the highest point of privilege in America. They came from wealthy families, went to good schools, but they are still in low-level positions.

posted by melissam at 8:44 AM on August 10 [2 favorites +] [!]


My response to this is going to come off as another flavor of "darn that culture of entitlement among our nation's youth," and well, I guess it sort of is. But I am trying not to be a jerk about this, and my questions below are not rhetorical.

You're in your mid-twenties. How far along in your career did you and your friends expect to be? Did you anticipate, at this point, being in management positions where you had peers and elders reporting to you? Were you expecting to be at a Director or VP title already?

Less time has elapsed since college than you actually spent in college (most likely). Honestly, where did you expect to be at this point?

You say that your peers are "pretty far behind in their careers and still need money from their parents." If they're far behind, who are they far behind? Needing money from their folks does not necessarily mean that they're far behind, it does indicate that they live above their income.
posted by ben242 at 9:19 AM on August 10, 2012 [3 favorites]


Some employers feel that an unpaid intern has received enough reward by simply being hired...

Oh, hell, a lot of employers feel that way about their entire work force. I've worked for employers who definitely held your wages over your head as if they were this great bonus they were bestowing upon you, and not compensation for your labor.
posted by Thorzdad at 9:40 AM on August 10, 2012 [3 favorites]


is this the only time in our history that it has occurred?

Unpaid internships remind me much more of historic apprenticeships than of slavery. Of course, not only were early modern and medieval apprentices not paid, their parents usually paid a substantial sum to their master to cover their room and board - even though the apprentice would be doing work the whole time for the master. The more prestigious the profession, the higher the fees, which did function as a form of social control/limits to mobility. Even Overseers of the Poor paid people to take on pauper children (poor or orphaned) as apprentices.

So we're not quite there, but I really don't want to go back to the middle ages. (Great clothes, terrible health and social welfare).
posted by jb at 9:45 AM on August 10, 2012 [1 favorite]


What's after working for free? Paying to work obviously!
http://vfxsoldier.wordpress.com/2012/03/26/the-paying-to-work-for-free-vfx-business-model/
posted by jade east at 9:50 AM on August 10, 2012


Are there any industries other than engineering that actually pay their interns?

As someone else noted - also in the software world.

And my mother works for a museum consultancy which refuses on principal to have any unpaid interns. They could and their industry is rife with it, but they've decided that it's wrong.
posted by jb at 9:51 AM on August 10, 2012


Even in tech where you would assume people would learn something, they end up doing the kind of very basic tasks that companies would probably otherwise outsource and not progressing beyond that.

This is not what I see in software companies.

We hire interns in the hope of enticing them to return when they graduate. If anything, we go out of the way to give them interesting projects - this year, one of the intern projects was a proof-of-concept port of our entire website to the cloud. They pretty much all get to work on real projects & live code.

Also, software engineering interns get paid. Pretty well, actually ($30 + for a rising senior).
posted by mr vino at 9:53 AM on August 10, 2012


You're in your mid-twenties. How far along in your career did you and your friends expect to be? Did you anticipate, at this point, being in management positions where you had peers and elders reporting to you? Were you expecting to be at a Director or VP title already?

In my mid-twenties I was not a manager or director or Veep and did not have any reports. I instead had a job that required skill and intelligence, made use of my experience, education and interest, and gave me important responsibilities to the company. It paid a comfortable middle-class wage.

It was not a low-level job, I held one of those for a few years in my early twenties as I learned the skills needed to do more advanced work - and I was paid for this low level work, enough to pay for an apartment in an expensive city and a nice used car.

This "kids these days are entitled" bullshit needs to end... the exact opposite is true. They need to organize and demand more, and fast.
posted by Slap*Happy at 9:55 AM on August 10, 2012 [18 favorites]


I think the only way that this disturbing trend is going to stop is if people just stop taking unpaid internships. They do not appear to be offering much in the way of skills development or future prospects anyway.

Are there any industries other than engineering that actually pay their interns?

In Canada, paid internships are the norm. Only things like teaching practicums and a few other niche professions have unpaid internships. (Not to say that interns are paid well, but I've yet to come across a university endorsed internship that was completely volunteer. Even non-profits have government assistance available to the to pay interns at least minimum wage.) I did three paid co-ops during my undergraduate years and learned a lot about government, working in a professional environment, and gained great references. But I was also paid a little bit above minimum wage for my time. To whatever extent this is being eroded, students need to reject it. Even a crap job at minimum wage is better than a crap job that's unpaid.
posted by Kurichina at 9:55 AM on August 10, 2012


pro: company store 2.0

tagline: You don't need their souls if you've got the by the balls.
posted by mule98J at 9:56 AM on August 10, 2012


Slap*Happy,

Your experience tells us nothing about the experience or expectations of melissam and her* peers. How you define "low level job" tells us nothing about how melissam and her peers define it. I appreciate your reply, but it doesn't answer my questions.

I'm not defending the exploitative behaviors of employers when it comes to interns. I just want to know where melissam is coming from, and what all those words mean to her.

* I'm guessing gender based on the username.
posted by ben242 at 10:10 AM on August 10, 2012


bringing in interns from Georgia Tech to do almost all their development

well, don't worry: this is the sort of power-mad penny-pinching scheme you only see in the sort of doomed company run by a pound-foolish "entrepreneur" who thinks he understands business and definitely doesn't understand engineering.
posted by Mars Saxman at 10:11 AM on August 10, 2012 [3 favorites]


In Canada, paid internships are the norm. Only things like teaching practicums and a few other niche professions have unpaid internships.

We have plenty of unpaid internships: anywhere in the fashionable industries of fashion, journalism, television and all through the non-profit sector. A quick google finds plenty of articles about unpaid internships in Canada.
posted by jb at 10:12 AM on August 10, 2012


You're in your mid-twenties. How far along in your career did you and your friends expect to be? Did you anticipate, at this point, being in management positions where you had peers and elders reporting to you? Were you expecting to be at a Director or VP title already?

I can't really answer for these people, since I had junior-level positions in IT for several years where I am slowly improving my skills so I can possibly take higher positions in the future at a real company. And I guess I am a boss already anyway because I have started several businesses. I am 26. I have enough money to pay rent in a decent neighborhood, buy food, pay utilities, pay off my student loans. I am not dissatisfied with my position at all.

Some of my peers who took unpaid internships cannot afford very basic things without their parent's help. It is demoralizing for them. Rich people don't get a lot of sympathy, but these are young men and women whose parents were extremely successful and a lot of them feel like they have to live to up that. They do not feel it is possible for them to advance in their careers, since all they have learned about on the job is how to file papers and answer phones. They hope to someday make it big or something, but working 9-5, when do they have time to develop their own skills? There is nothing wrong with those menial tasks, but they should be paid to do them and not tricked into doing them with the pretense that they will be able to do other stuff later. This hurts all kinds of people, including people who in the past would have been hired as secretaries and paid a living wage, but now their job is done for free by rich kids.

My own position is that I always felt such people looked down on me because I took a stable job in a field many people think is very boring (but I find fun things to do). I didn't follow my dreams career-wise, I took what I thought could pay the bills. I do writing in my spare time and at this point I make enough money from it that I could support myself on it if I downgraded some parts of my lifestyle. I do not think it's a good idea to take an internship and my point was that even the highly privileged get screwed by them.
posted by melissam at 10:14 AM on August 10, 2012 [7 favorites]


Also, the article misses a pretty significant aspect of the unpaid internship system, in that it keeps the poor in their place. A kid who went to college by way of financial aid and scholarships can't afford to take an unpaid internship. It may be possible during the summer, if they're not working. After graduation? If they can't move back home, an unpaid internship may as well be unemployment.

I still remember the first unpaid internship I was offered, at a major motion picture effects company in Chicago (there weren't many) doing motion-control cinematography (brand new at the time, this was around 1991), and having to turn it down because it required full-time hours -- something I couldn't afford to do, as my two part-time jobs were the only thing keeping me fed, sheltered and in the local commuter college.

Ultimately I've done all right, taking an unpaid internship with shorter hours at a local cable station (which, on the scale of things, was bottom-of-the-barrel) so I could keep my part-time jobs, and ultimately working part time for that company (enabling some freelance work that led to bigger things) -- but I still remember other friends, who went to better schools, being able to take unpaid internships for impressive organizations full-time during the summers, and I still wonder what my life would have been like if I'd had the time to take that first opportunity.
posted by davejay at 10:39 AM on August 10, 2012 [1 favorite]


A quick google finds plenty of articles about unpaid internships in Canada.

Endorsed by a reputable post-secondary co-op program?

Either you get post-secondary credit, retaining one's status as a full-time student, (which is what I think/damn well hope that Humber is doing) or you get paid. Otherwise it's a scam. And if Humber is making an unpaid internship a requirement, but not partnership with the organizations to provide credit (as teachers get for their practicum), then they are no better than any of the scammy, degree-mill institutions out there: i.e. not a real school.
posted by Kurichina at 10:48 AM on August 10, 2012 [1 favorite]


Also, the article misses a pretty significant aspect of the unpaid internship system, in that it keeps the poor in their place.

The British conversation on internships always talks about this - which makes sense, seeing as in the UK class is to the national consciousness as race is in the USA.

My SO found so many places that would talk about wanting the best, regardless of who they are, and would come recruiting at his grad program, but always it turned out to be "the best who can afford to live in London unpaid for 2 years or more" (yeah, we're looking at you, BBC).
posted by jb at 10:48 AM on August 10, 2012 [1 favorite]


I just want to know where melissam is coming from, and what all those words mean to her.

No, the way you phrased it, with ludicrous asides about management positions, implies a really insulting sort of value judgement. You'd be insane or stupid to expect to be running the show in your twenties (Gates and Zuckerberg notwithstanding), and from your comment, as a whole, you're tying to see if she is indeed insane or stupid. It's something you should have put more thought into before asking.
posted by Slap*Happy at 10:48 AM on August 10, 2012 [3 favorites]


Praise Obama that anyone under 26 can stay on the parent's health care plan now. Without that, young people taking unpaid internships hoping to claw their way into a career would be ruined by a sprained ankle.
posted by Hollywood Upstairs Medical College at 10:50 AM on August 10, 2012 [1 favorite]


I'll second milissam's observation that the rich kids who took unpaid internships as an "investment" in their career and bankrolled it with their parents money aren't any better off. It seems that getting someone to pay you to do something has a way of convincing others that you should be paid for that thing, which, when compounded over a few years, constitutes what we call a "career". Doing data entry at a publication house for free does not get you a career.
posted by deathpanels at 10:53 AM on August 10, 2012 [4 favorites]


Endorsed by a reputable post-secondary co-op program?

That's not relevant - lots of internships (paid or unpaid) are not associated with a post-secondary program (and yes, Humber does require unpaid internships to graduate, at least from the culinary management program, and no, it's actually otherwise an excellent program).

What matters is that internships are just as much a part of getting into many industries in Canada as it is in the UK and the US. Maybe we're not as far along, but it's a lie to say that paid internships are the norm across the country. Like I said upthread - my mother's Canadian employer does not have unpaid internships. But they make a point of saying that, because they are bucking the norms in their industry, even in Canada.

We shouldn't put our heads in the sand and pretend that it's not happening (and that it's not a corrosive influence in our society), just because it hasn't happened to you or I personally.
posted by jb at 10:53 AM on August 10, 2012 [1 favorite]


A quick google finds plenty of articles about unpaid internships in Canada.

Endorsed by a reputable post-secondary co-op program?


Yes. Apparently in the field of nutrition, for example, to become a certified something-or-other in Canada, you first must get an undergraduate degree in nutrition (maybe doing some summer internships for which you receive academic credit). Then, after graduating, do some amount of unpaid internship (the impression that I got was that the idea is that it's something like a medical residency for people who will be, eg., in charge of menu planning for hospitals or old folks homes or similar institutions) before being eligible for some level of certification in the field of nutrition. I am forgetting the specifics because it's not my field, but I have known several students who have gone through this process. The interns have graduated, so are not getting any academic credit for these unpaid internships, though the undergrad nutrition programs do knowingly feed their graduates into this system. At least they get actual career experience and the unpaid internship is valued (in fact, required) for their future careers in nutrition. It is rather limiting for recent graduates who can't afford to spend a year or two doing an unpaid internship, however.
posted by eviemath at 11:10 AM on August 10, 2012


At least medical residencies are paid, and not badly paid at that. Though the residents will complain, but they don't realize that while their wages are low compared to what they will one day make, they are good compared to the rest of us.
posted by jb at 11:45 AM on August 10, 2012


I run a small business and I would love to have free labor. But I remember looking at all those cool internship postings that I couldn't afford to apply for when I was in college and I just can't bring myself to do it to someone else. I have a paid intern.
posted by bq at 11:46 AM on August 10, 2012 [2 favorites]


Also, the article misses a pretty significant aspect of the unpaid internship system, in that it keeps the poor in their place. A kid who went to college by way of financial aid and scholarships can't afford to take an unpaid internship.

Actually, the article does address this aspect:

. . .they compound the economical class differences between those who can afford to work for free and those who can’t.
posted by Obscure Reference at 12:19 PM on August 10, 2012


While this is an important issue, I wish the word "slaves" hadn't been used. Because, you know, there were like, actual slaves in the US (and still are in the world today.)
posted by The ____ of Justice at 1:39 PM on August 10, 2012 [1 favorite]


No, the way you phrased it, with ludicrous asides about management positions, implies a really insulting sort of value judgement. You'd be insane or stupid to expect to be running the show in your twenties (Gates and Zuckerberg notwithstanding), and from your comment, as a whole, you're tying to see if she is indeed insane or stupid. It's something you should have put more thought into before asking.
posted by Slap*Happy at 10:48 AM on August 10 [2 favorites +] [!]


Now that I've been reprimanded on the internet, you can be certain I'll take your orders to heart. You've really turned me around, and my gratitude is eternal. I'll tell my mom about this so she can give you a call and thank you. Your lesson in how I should be polite but you don't have to be is really eye-opening.

melissam said "I find a lot of those who took internships are still pretty far behind in their careers and still need money from their parents. This is despite coming from the highest point of privilege in America. They came from wealthy families, went to good schools, but they are still in low-level positions."

All I have to go on here is that the people she is referring to are 1) in low-level positions and 2) they feel that they are pretty far behind. In their mid-twenties, they feel this way. I know that in my mid-twenties, I felt this way as a result of my own unreasonable expectations about how fast I should be promoted. I had a head full of steam and ego about what I thought I deserved at that point, and my expectations were out of line with respect to reality.

In other words, low-level positions in lots of fields are appropriately filled by people in the mid-twenties. Sometimes even smart people who grew up with privilege - like me - have to work their way up.

So I was asking - and seriously dude, you do not have to get aggro about my asking the question - what is it that her peers thought should be reality at this point? Is an unpaid internship that probably occurred YEARS EARLIER the sole cause for their reality/expectations mismatch, or might the expectations be a little out of line? They wouldn't be the first people in their mid-twenties to have the wrong idea about the world, if that is the case.
posted by ben242 at 2:07 PM on August 10, 2012 [2 favorites]



In other words, low-level positions in lots of fields are appropriately filled by people in the mid-twenties. Sometimes even smart people who grew up with privilege - like me - have to work their way up.

So I was asking - and seriously dude, you do not have to get aggro about my asking the question - what is it that her peers thought should be reality at this point? Is an unpaid internship that probably occurred YEARS EARLIER the sole cause for their reality/expectations mismatch, or might the expectations be a little out of line? They wouldn't be the first people in their mid-twenties to have the wrong idea about the world, if that is the case.


Did you even read my answer at all? I'm not talking low-level as in not in towards the top of management hierarchy, I'm talking low-level as in not able to advance ever and not learning anything.

I'm pretty sure these people would be thrilled to be in my position now or your position in your 20s.
posted by melissam at 2:40 PM on August 10, 2012 [2 favorites]


It's not just the young. If you're middle aged and trying to change careers (which is happening increasingly often these days, given the way entire industries are shutting down) you're often looking at an unpaid internship too. So, you get to schelp stuff around the office for people 10 years younger than you are, all the while praying that you don't throw your back out.
posted by Ursula Hitler at 2:53 PM on August 10, 2012


Did you even read my answer at all? I'm not talking low-level as in not in towards the top of management hierarchy, I'm talking low-level as in not able to advance ever and not learning anything.

I'm pretty sure these people would be thrilled to be in my position now or your position in your 20s.
posted by melissam at 2:40 PM on August 10 [+] [!]


Yes, I did read your reply. You didn't specify an example, so when you say "not able to advance ever and not learning anything" I can't really respond to it. Basically your earlier reply (pasted and replied below) said that they feel bad about themselves, and they hope for a better future, and that this is directly connected to unpaid internships that they used to have, or I guess that they still have?

Some of my peers who took unpaid internships cannot afford very basic things without their parent's help. It is demoralizing for them. Rich people don't get a lot of sympathy, but these are young men and women whose parents were extremely successful and a lot of them feel like they have to live to up that.

I totally get that, and I sympathize with them. I have been there myself, sort of.

They do not feel it is possible for them to advance in their careers, since all they have learned about on the job is how to file papers and answer phones. They hope to someday make it big or something, but working 9-5, when do they have time to develop their own skills?

In my twenties, while working a job that was more than 9-5 and included regular travel, I took out loans and earned my MBA part-time. I don't presume to know what their lives are like, but my experience and that of most of my classmates was that you can work full time and still develop skills during non-work time.

There is nothing wrong with those menial tasks, but they should be paid to do them and not tricked into doing them with the pretense that they will be able to do other stuff later. This hurts all kinds of people, including people who in the past would have been hired as secretaries and paid a living wage, but now their job is done for free by rich kids.

Totally agree. As I said before, I'm not defending exploitative labor practices. I'm with you - unpaid internships where the intern's job is to bring coffee and donuts are bullshit. I just don't know about tracing all of a person's current employment problems to an unpaid, possibly years-past internship. Plenty of lurking variables here.
posted by ben242 at 3:09 PM on August 10, 2012


At least medical residencies are paid, and not badly paid at that. Though the residents will complain, but they don't realize that while their wages are low compared to what they will one day make, they are good compared to the rest of us.

These aren't really comparable. The residents in my state get paid around $40K/year to start, which sounds great until you realize that a) this is for an 80-hour work week, making the hourly rate right around $10; and b) this is after four years of medical school, each year of which cost right around $50K (give or take). They're not only making right over minimum wage, but they're doing it deeply in debt and in their late 20s or early 30s, having already undergone a long and rigorous training process.

In other words, residency is more like the terrible, low-paying job you get after your internship is over. The upside is that it pretty reliably leads to a career, unlike this wink-and-a-handshake arrangements in other industries. Unfortunately, the medical education system has the same class-guarding effect as the unpaid-internship system, in that it keeps out talented people who can't afford to not receive any kind of salary (and in fact pay hundreds of thousands of dollars) until they're 26 or 27.
posted by LittleMissCranky at 3:10 PM on August 10, 2012 [1 favorite]


Yes, I did read your reply. You didn't specify an example, so when you say "not able to advance ever and not learning anything" I can't really respond to it. Basically your earlier reply (pasted and replied below) said that they feel bad about themselves, and they hope for a better future, and that this is directly connected to unpaid internships that they used to have, or I guess that they still have?

Working 1-2 years for free while learning nothing is detrimental to anyone's career, particularly when many of those internships are not tracked into full employment. In those years I was working a regular job, which allowed me to save money and learn real skills. Of course they can do something else, but they essentially wasted a lot of time. I don't see what's so complicated about that.

I think you might not get that because you wanted to climb up the management hierarchy, which isn't everyone's goal. Some people want to just work for a living wage and improve their skills on the job through experience, mentorship, and further training, which qualifies them for more highly paid and skilled positions.

my experience and that of most of my classmates was that you can work full time and still develop skills during non-work time.

Honestly it depends on the job. I spent some time in an internship-like position as an Americorps volunteer and I did improve my skills while working on frankly menial tasks that were not part of the position description. But it was much harder to do that than it is now. Boreout is a real phenomenon and a lot of the tasks I had, which interns often do, were incredibly draining. I remember working charity events until 2 am sometimes. I didn't have a lot of energy to study. And unlike burning midnight oil for a startup, which I've done since, you don't really get paid for all you put in, which is mentally and emotionally draining, particularly when the people at some of these organizations that have interns are racking in the dough and you have to see them every day with their nice clothes, cars, etc.
posted by melissam at 3:28 PM on August 10, 2012 [2 favorites]


In my twenties, while working a job that was more than 9-5 and included regular travel, I took out loans and earned my MBA part-time. I don't presume to know what their lives are like, but my experience and that of most of my classmates was that you can work full time and still develop skills during non-work time.


I am sensing a generation gap here. What seemed like a viable path in your time is not a sure thing anymore. College costs more, jobs are fewer and the pay is worse.

You are just as likely to end up over-educated and underpaid with a huge loan over your head. Glad that doubling down worked out for you, but I would hesitate to try to generalize your experience to the current economic climate. Have you seen the unemployment figures for freshly minted MBA's?
posted by psycho-alchemy at 4:31 PM on August 10, 2012 [6 favorites]


This is ridiculously common in the arts and creative industries. It's almost the only way to get hired (or it's a case of know-someone-who-knows-someone) and even then it's like a 1% chance. A lot of arts orgs are funded solely by grants and funding's being slashed left and right, so even their official employees don't get paid enough. (Good luck convincing Australian arts groups/activists/etc to look beyond Gov funding; my attempts at proposing the idea kept coming back with "YOU EVIL NEOLIBERAL!" Which was weird because I originated from a country where you'd be suspicious of Gov funding because it meant you were a puppet to their right-wing agenda.)
posted by divabat at 5:02 PM on August 10, 2012 [2 favorites]


A few years ago I did a paid (albeit very poorly paid, not to mention I spent most of it on transportation) internship in a law office. On several occasions my employer had me walk to one of the New York Public Library branches to return her kids' library books for her, on my own time *after* I left for the day.

I repeat: she had me return her kids' library books on my own time.

She also had me engage in a prolonged and tedious e-mail dispute with the contractor who was renovating her apartment. She also wanted me to act as intermediary on the phone with her ex-husband every time he called, while she screeched in the background "I won't discuss this! You can leave a message with my intern!!!!".

After that, I couldn't stomach applying to another internship.
posted by adso at 6:35 PM on August 10, 2012 [1 favorite]


...my experience and that of most of my classmates was that you can work full time and still develop skills during non-work time.

My experience was that my employer paid to send me to training and trade conferences and would have subsidized my college education if I decided I wanted one. This was standard industry practice, even at small companies.

You needed to take out a loan to further your education? While working a full-time gig, where they trusted you enough to send you on travel?

Congrats. You're part of Generation Serf.
posted by Slap*Happy at 7:55 PM on August 10, 2012


So, I'm an accountant, and it would have been unheard of for the firms to try to offer unpaid internships...I mean, maybe that's something that local firms might try to get away with, but the Big 4 firms, and the larger middle market firms understand that they have to basically be lock-step in line with one another in terms of pay rates (per a given location), etc.,

In fact, interns get overtime pay, which salaried full-time employees do not. With the hours I work as a full-time employee, I sometimes wish I could go back to being an intern.

Yeah, and my employer pays for my training. This is something the other big firms do as well -- they try to make the "objective" factors pretty well matched across the board, so the real decision to be made is which firm is the best fit for you (and for the firm: which candidates are the best fit for their culture).
posted by subversiveasset at 8:37 AM on August 11, 2012


I am sensing a generation gap here. What seemed like a viable path in your time is not a sure thing anymore. College costs more, jobs are fewer and the pay is worse.

You are just as likely to end up over-educated and underpaid with a huge loan over your head. Glad that doubling down worked out for you, but I would hesitate to try to generalize your experience to the current economic climate. Have you seen the unemployment figures for freshly minted MBA's?
posted by psycho-alchemy at 4:31 PM on August 10 [+] [!]


I have not seen the figures, but I would guess that unemployment among people with an MBA is lower than the general population. For what its worth, I graduated at the beginning of 2009, and I'm 31 now. I chose a public school instead of a private school, and when I got my "MBA job" in the beginning of 2008, they reimbursed me for tuition during the time I worked there. The whole bill for school is about $42k, including loan interest.

I see your point, that my experience may not be the same as a student today, but my point was that it is possible to learn new things outside of working hours. If the complaint is "I work 9 to 5 so I have no time for self-improvement," well, I don't buy it. And business school isn't the only off-hours thing a person can do.

My experience was that my employer paid to send me to training and trade conferences and would have subsidized my college education if I decided I wanted one. This was standard industry practice, even at small companies.

You needed to take out a loan to further your education? While working a full-time gig, where they trusted you enough to send you on travel?


Thats great for you. The small startup I worked for during most of grad school did not offer tuition reimbursement. Lucky for me, low interest loans were available, so I took them. Best investment I have ever made.

I don't see the connection between trusting me for travel and not paying for school.

Congrats. You're part of Generation Serf.
posted by Slap*Happy at 7:55 PM on August 10 [+] [!]


Okay, you can ease up on the snark any time you're ready. Do you write for Gawker or something? Chill out a little.

Are you implying that mine is the first generation to ever finance things with debt?
posted by ben242 at 10:37 AM on August 11, 2012


Yes. My dad paid his way through engineering school by working at a grocery store during the summers. My wife had her MBA paid for by her employer. Your little startup was robbing you blind, and since you don't want to admit it, you come down on others for their "entitlement."
posted by Slap*Happy at 9:13 PM on August 11, 2012


Slap*Happy, you don't know what you're talking about. You don't know anything about the specifics of that job. The role, total compensation including stock options, and my living situation all played a role in my choices. You also don't seem to understand why debt financing is desirable.
posted by ben242 at 5:49 AM on August 12, 2012


something in the air...


Big Think: Intern Snobbery, Famous Former Interns(slideshow), and How To Be An Awesome Underling
posted by the man of twists and turns at 11:43 PM on August 12, 2012


« Older After months of rumors and frustration, it appears...  |  On the evening of October 8, 1... Newer »


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