A bit of a segue from my normal writing discussion, but something that has been bothering me for a long time.
I have been frustrated with the rise of unpaid internships. That someone, somewhere, thinks it’s okay to ask people to work, to provide value, and then not to pay them for that work. Sure, the intern is learning something, but then so am I much of the time I’m at work. And I still expect to be paid for it.
All the stranger that the government allows companies to use workers without paying those workers and the corresponding taxes that should go with those workers. Or, maybe not.
I hadn’t thought much of paid internships until I was having lunch with the director of engineering and he was talking up a candidate he was interviewing. The young man was a sophomore in college who already had extensive international engineering experience after two high profile internships.
I reviewed the candidate’s resume, and while it was good, I asked the engineer how he thought the young man got such prestigious internships so early in his academic career. After some discussion, the engineer agreed it was unusual. He chalked it up to the candidate being stellar and went on to make the young man an offer.
The candidate didn’t accept with us, so I never met him. But a part of me suspects there was more to it than a brilliant young mind. After years of watching my company’s internship program, I’ve learned a few things.
Poor kids usually don’t do internships. They can’t afford a car to drive to the facility. They can’t afford to pay room and board in addition to whatever agreements they’ve signed back at school. And most poor kids don’t have the connections to get their foot in the door in the first place.
That young man with the incredible internship experiences before sophomore year? I can almost guarantee there was some family connection there. Sure, he did the internship, but he got it through established privilege. And the internship masked the privilege as merit.
That one candidate really made me pause to examine the entire internship program. If internships were as prevalent when I was in school as they are today, would I have been able to land the first job I did that propelled me through my career? Or is this another way to limit social mobility while masking it as meritocracy?
I’m not sure.
But internships are not about to go away, so I think it’s something we should all be asking ourselves.