Many young college graduates faced with ‘culture of internships’

by Grace

There was a time not long ago when internships were reserved for college students. But that era is passing, with loosely defined internships — some paying a small stipend, some nothing — replacing traditional entry-level jobs for many fresh out of college.

The moribund economy is, without question, a primary factor behind the shift. Even though the employment picture has brightened since the depths of the Great Recession, few would describe it as sunny. The general unemployment rate inched down to 6.6 percent last month, but the jobless rate for college graduates age 20 to 24 stood at 8 percent in 2013, compared with 5.1 percent in 2007, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Actual measurements are lacking, but with recent college graduates suffering the worst unemployment rates in 50 years I don’t doubt this trend is real.

No one tracks how many college graduates take internships, but employment experts and intern advocates say the number has risen substantially in recent years. “The postgraduate internship has exploded,” said Ross Perlin, author of the book “Intern Nation: How to Earn Nothing and Learn Little in the Brave New Economy.” “This was something that became a real mainstream experience after the recession began.”

The new “culture of internships” seems strongest in the media field, although high-tech start-ups also draw in workers willing to work for little or no pay.

While many young college graduates accept the meager opportunities because they are grateful for any chance to work in their chosen field, there is a revolt underway among a small contingent of dissatisfied workers.

Lately, however, long-suffering interns are starting to do more than complain. They point to the Labor Department’s six criteria for legal internships, which stipulate that companies that do not pay interns must provide vocational education and refrain from substituting interns for paid employees, among others. Those rules have been highly open to interpretation and their enforcement is sporadic.

In a much-publicized lawsuit in 2011, two unpaid interns sued the filmmakers of “Black Swan” alleging a violation of federal and New York State minimum wage laws. Last June, a federal judge in New York ruled in favor of the interns. (The case is on appeal.)

But some desperate millenials still prefer internships over less “meaningful” employment.

Last October, Condé Nast announced that it was ending the internship programs within its 25 magazines, which means that 20-something aspiring magazine editors will have one less place to get a toehold for their “meaningful” careers.

“Can you hear it?” one commenter wrote on a WWD article about the ending of internships. “It’s my dream of a Vogue internship going straight out the window.”

Many of these “permaterms have no choice but to continue living at home.

Related:  Unpaid internships – the good, the bad, and the ugly (Cost of College)

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15 Responses to “Many young college graduates faced with ‘culture of internships’”

  1. Back when I graduated, most companies had lengthy training programs for new employees fresh out of college, and PAID those new hires while they were trained. These training programs often lasted for a couple of months, even 6 months, and eased the new employees into the corporate world. Companies are no longer willing to pick up the tab of that final training step, so now new grads essentially fund themselves

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  2. Reblogged this on The College Money Man Blog and commented:
    Makes you wonder if it has something to do with the major they selected…

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  3. Nope. Even in computer science, they need to have done internships to get the good jobs

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  4. CSProfMom — Internships yes, but I doubt many CS graduates have to endure years of the type of post-grad, low-paid internships described in the article.

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  5. CS internships are usually done in the summer between junior and senior year, and are usually paid at rates similar to start-up jobs. The situation is very different from the minimum-wage or lower internships in some other fields.

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  6. Mostly they are paid, though when I was at a different school, a lot of our student interned at IBM, and they never paid. We just had a big company come with some intern positions last week, which paid $5000 for the summer.

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  7. That $5000 number is interesting.

    At a compus tour we took, it was mentioned that there were often summer jobs available that paid about $5000, which just happened to be about the COL for a summer.

    At many colleges, in calculating financial aid, students are expected to contribute about $5000 to $6000 in earnings per year toward their college expenses.

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  8. Good internships usually lead to good jobs. However I think given the rule changes on internships we are going to see more companies either drop their internship program (like vogue) an more offer paid internships for needed skills. But there will never be enough paid internships for every college student that wants one, which is naturally going to set some at a disadvantage in the job market after graduation.

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  9. Are the rules changing? Or is it the court ruling that appears to change how they must be applied?

    IMO, it’s hard to understand how employers can meet this rule in particular.

    “The employer that provides the training derives no immediate advantage from the activities of the intern; and on occasion its operations may actually be impeded;”

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  10. It is difficult to see why an honest company would refuse to pay a worker unless ““The employer that provides the training derives no immediate advantage from the activities of the intern; and on occasion its operations may actually be impeded;”

    I think that rule is the crux of the difference between training and employment.

    The situation is somewhat different with charitable organizations, which may reasonably rely on volunteer labor. Political organizations also rely on volunteer labor, though they have been moving more and more towards paid workers who may not even agree with their positions.

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  11. That rule has been in place for years. That is why so many unpaid internships are so useless.

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  12. I can see where an “honest” employer might not want to pay an intern even if the employer does receive some “immediate advantage from the activities of the intern” if, on balance, the interns mainly impede operations. I once worked at a place that used interns, and they were foisted on us in some departments. Sometimes they were a real help in our operations, but mainly they created more work for the rest of the staff. (Those interns were paid.)

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  13. “I once worked at a place that used interns, and they were foisted on us in some departments. Sometimes they were a real help in our operations, but mainly they created more work for the rest of the staff.” That is the situation that allows unpaid interns—where you are training them but “on occasion its operations may actually be impeded”. Of course, if you find someone productive, you should immediately switch them to a paid internship. (I realize that your interns were paid, which is good—but the situation you describe is the one for which the law allows unpaid internships.)

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  14. “but the situation you describe is the one for which the law allows unpaid internships.”

    Not technically, if I’m reading the rule correctly. The way I interpret the rule, if the intern occasionally, or even once, did something that offered an immediate advantage to the employer, he must be paid. Never mind that most of the time this (hypothetical) intern created more work for other employees. Of course, I may be interpreting this rule way too literally.

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