Being on winter break, I’ve had more time to patrol the Twittersphere than I do during the academic year. In the past day or so, I’ve noticed more tweets about unpaid internships and the dis/advantages thereof.
Earlier, @greglinch tweeted a link to a Christian Science Monitor opinion piece asking, “What if interns went on strike?” The author argues that hard-working interns are often not guaranteed or even tempted with employment with a company, despite their value in the workplace:
Interns are valuable. And as part of the workforce, they are expected to do many of the same tasks that professionals do (along with the menial jobs that no one cares to do).
Many people have, at some point in their lives, worked without pay. Some start businesses, others devote time to charities or nonprofits, and still more apprentice in lucrative mechanical fields. I am all for entrepreneurs, mechanics, and bleeding hearts.
However, conceiving of the unpaid internship as a means to secure paying jobs is as archaic as the corporate ladder model of employment itself. We no longer live in a society where hard work at one company ensures that we will someday reach the zenith of the American dream.
Greg also tweeted a link to a blog post with an internship opportunity offer from famed war photojournalist James Nachtwey‘s studio. Like so many other journalism internships out there, Nachtwey’s offer is unpaid. Unlike so many other journalism internships out there, Nachtwey is ultra-specific about what entry skills he wants his eventual intern to have. These include proficiency with particular scanning equipment and certain Photoshop tasks.
There’s absolutely nothing wrong with setting a high standard for an incoming intern — but for those kinds of higher-end technical skills and know-how? For no pay? For at least three days a week for three months? In New York City?
Nachtwey is out of his mind.
But let’s back up and examine the general idea of unpaid internships altogether.
Many larger workplaces — such as big-name newspapers/magazines, law firms and more — don’t pay their interns for a variety of reasons. In many (or, I hope, in most) cases, these workplaces simply don’t have the budget for paid internships but still want to extend an offer so young people interested in that industry can still get good experience. In other cases, some workplaces justify not paying their interns by asserting that the internship experience is so valuable that the experience itself is payment.