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Buying entry into a career

via moominmuppet

"How Unpaid Internships Perpetuate Rampant Inequality in the US," by Anna Lekas Miller

Excerpt:
Recent graduates, disturbed by the dearth of job opportunities, began to take internships as a last resort to stay competitive in the labor market. Although an internship used to be akin to an apprenticeship—a temporary stint of unpaid, hands-on labor resulting in an eventual job offer—the explosion of both college students and recent graduates taking internships no longer guarantees a paid position. Instead, as more and more young people demonstrated they were willing to supply an unpaid labor force so long as it was framed as an “internship,” internships have become a means for companies and non-profit organizations to re-package once paying jobs and cut corners in a tight economy.

Internships are the new entry-level job—the same duties and basic experience, only this time without compensation or benefits.
Unpaid internships were common when I was in college in the early 1980s, but I refused to take one. I had an idea that it was important for me to work for a paycheck. Nevertheless, my parents and I paid for my first career job in three ways: (1) I got a bachelor's degree (my parents paid my tuition); (2) I went to the Denver Publishing Institute summer program (my parents paid my tuition); (3) I took an entry level publishing job that paid $10K a year to start, which didn't cover my expenses (and my expenses didn't include student loans). However, the job did have health benefits.

I see that the long and venerable tradition of paying for entry into a career path continues, although it sounds like it's somewhat worse than it used to be. Another excerpt:
It's becoming more and more expected for college students to have had at least one, if not several, internships by the time they graduate. Students that come from a privileged background, with parents who are willing and able to finance sometimes serial internships, are able to survive in internship culture financially unscathed. Eventually, they intern for long enough to make the connections necessary to break into the white-collar world. But students from lower- or even middle-income backgrounds feel financially stressed taking on unpaid work, but many do anyway to compete with their more privileged peers in the job market.


This entry was originally posted at http://firecat.dreamwidth.org/746488.html, where there are comment count unavailable comments.

Comments

( 11 comments — Leave a comment )
gmdreia
Oct. 12th, 2011 02:14 am (UTC)
It's not hopeless. It's just not hopeful for the clueless.
Something that a lot of college students don't know, too, is that it's necessary to start getting work experience before even leaving college, and also to market one's self. I think that many college graduates expect that a job will just be waiting for them. Many don't realize that the unpaid work and networking can and should be done while still in school, and this is especially possible in fields that don't require legal certifications (for example, graphic design; one can build their portfolio and network long before they even graduate). Even fields that -do- require certification (for example, nursing and law) often have some lower level certification (such as CNA and paralegal) that can help them work and network in the field before they graduate. That's much smarter than going to work for Starbuck's while in college. You'd be amazed how many of these people never work in their field and then they invest so much money and end up so totally clueless about what the work is like let alone how to get a job, when the paralegal who worked his way through law school already knows people and has some clue of what he is about.

It should be necessary to complete career path workshops and the like as a condition of having a student loan.

Both the public universities and the higher-end liberal arts privates (as opposed to ones that are career-focused) suck in this regard.

Edited at 2011-10-12 02:15 am (UTC)
gmdreia
Oct. 12th, 2011 03:50 am (UTC)
Re: It's not hopeless. It's just not hopeful for the clueless.
Oh, and having just read the article, thought I'd add this...

Many of those priveleged students -don't- do internships while still in school. I know several of these students. Thing is, our college isn't our parents' college. It seems best to use college as an enhancement to existing qualifications, not as the qualification itself. College isn't going to funnel one into a job. It may be better to take eight months to a year to learn a trade before entering college, instead of working one's way through as a barista. Many young students and grads are not very flexible.

I may make a blog entry about this.
firecat
Oct. 12th, 2011 05:26 pm (UTC)
Re: It's not hopeless. It's just not hopeful for the clueless.
I went to a higher-end liberal arts private and although I had worked in publishing and radio, on graduation I felt keenly that I had no job skills. I could type fast, so I had a backup option of going into secretarial work (and in fact the job I ended up with in publishing was a secretarial job).
gmdreia
Oct. 12th, 2011 07:38 pm (UTC)
Re: It's not hopeless. It's just not hopeful for the clueless.
That's a time honored way of doing things, getting a foot in the door with a different kind of job.

My understanding of a lot of internships is that frequently, you end up doing totally unrelated work and learning nothing.

Fortunately, my school's (design) internship program is for its own in house design team and it's actually required for the AA and is exclusively design projects (some of which pay, if our design is picked). I'm not sure I'd get better experience as a junior/senior intern working for a large company.
meirion
Oct. 12th, 2011 05:55 am (UTC)
In France very low-paid stages are common. For engineers, typically the one between their first and second years is a stage ouvrier which for a current student has recently involved sluicing out boats in Nice harbour. However, I managed to wangle my way out of that (having had a gap year in which I'd spent 13 weeks doing apprentice training on lathes, grinders, milling machines, soldering etc. and 13 weeks working on the shop-floor re-designing stuff, writing documentation, and trying to get the place up to ISO 9000 specification) and got three research-y (not well-paid, but enough to pay the rent and to do plenty of sightseeing if I was willing to walk most places, which in Paris isn't difficult) stages instead, which I will never regret as they have been the only office jobs I've ever had that haven't had me wanting to tear my hair out within weeks. The working environment is just so much better than in England (or at least it was then).

The culture of unpaid internships has now hit the UK in many fields, as well of course as the long-term unemployed being forced to work for free. There's a reason I left the UK ... and politics had a lot to do with it. Now I live in an anomalously right-wing/centrist town in a hugely radically left-wing (US politicians would say communist, but the Parti Communist is something else entirely) and fiercely nationalistic (being a frequently invaded small island does that to places, I find) area. When I try to talk about the social problems there are in the UK, people think I'm making them up (the streets here are not, frex, littered with seriously damaged homeless veterans from two certain mad wars, so it's hard for them to imagine what it would be like to live in such a place).

For all I'm having a bit of trouble settling in and making friends, I know in the long run this is a better place to be .... (and making friends isn't something that just happens overnight anyway; acquaintances, maybe, but friends are a long-term investment!)

Sorry for tangential ramble; am waiting for painkillers to kick in so can go back to sleep, but thought maybe a weird lefty European (and I think I am now weird lefty even by European standards) comment might be interesting.

Edited at 2011-10-12 05:57 am (UTC)
firecat
Oct. 12th, 2011 06:32 am (UTC)
thought maybe a weird lefty European (and I think I am now weird lefty even by European standards) comment might be interesting.

Indeed it is! Thanks.
rowanf
Oct. 12th, 2011 04:37 pm (UTC)
I was very grateful that Apple had a policy against unpaid internships and I got one of their three library internships when I was getting out of library school. I hadn't thought about the social inequality aspect.

I worked my way though undergrad originally and happily managed to get jobs related to my field even if they didn't pay much. Of course that was back before internships where fashionable. I don't think I heard the term (outside of medicine) until going back to grad school in the late 80s.

Thanks for sharing the article.
firecat
Oct. 12th, 2011 05:09 pm (UTC)
I don't think I heard the term (outside of medicine) until going back to grad school in the late 80s.

I remember a lot of unpaid internships being available in 1982-3, when I was a junior and senior in college.
But they were mostly in Washington D.C., which I think has a long tradition of unpaid internships being offered as a way of breaking into politics.
flarenut
Oct. 13th, 2011 05:25 pm (UTC)
Not our parents' college experience
The big problem, to my way of thinking, about doing the internships and the job training and the self-marketing during college is that it means you pretty much have to decide your initial career direction within a year or so of leaving high school. I know it's a privileged outlook to think that a big part of college should be figuring out what you want to do, with vocational training secondary, but it's a privilege I think society should change to afford to everyone, rather than binding people into their roles at an ever-earlier stage.
firecat
Oct. 13th, 2011 07:51 pm (UTC)
Re: Not our parents' college experience
I know it's a privileged outlook to think that a big part of college should be figuring out what you want to do, with vocational training secondary, but it's a privilege I think society should change to afford to everyone, rather than binding people into their roles at an ever-earlier stage.

I agree, and I think it's a really important part of dismantling the class system to make this possible for as many people as we can. Seems to me that if you are bound into your role at an early stage, you're far more likely to stay in the class you started in, for lack of knowledge about other options.
gmdreia
Oct. 14th, 2011 01:31 am (UTC)
Re: Not our parents' college experience
...which is why I'd advise people to get a trade before entering college, and put off going for a year or two. Real world work experience is more beneficial to college than the reverse, IMO. I'm a way better student because of having worked in "real jobs". Also, it's cheaper for middle-income people to wait (because of the age 25 limit for being independent, where the financial aid folks are concerned; I couldn't even GO to school full time until I was over 25).

It's doable, as long as we rethink our milestones (marrying earlier or later, going to school earlier or later). The current setup for upper middle class kids, isn't working anymore, because the surplus is no longer there. Believe it or not, i know working class people who are having an easier time with this problem and working their way through.

( 11 comments — Leave a comment )

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