Internships and the Status Quo: Bad?

I was reading an interesting article in The Baffler a little while ago entitled “Internment Camps.” (Go to Excerpts, and it’s right there.) The premise is that the proliferation of unpaid internships in the “glamour” industries (fashion, architecture, media) is disturbing for two reasons: 1) it makes a summer or three of free labor “not merely an acceptable route up the corporate ladder, but the expected one”; and 2) it reinforces existing distributions of power, since only those students who can afford to work for free will be able to “absorb a short-term loss to get an imagined long-term gain.”


I think it depends-when I did my internship at the Heinz Museum, I was also doing it for credit.

Sooo…wouldn’t that factor in?

Yeah, it bothers me that people with rich parents are able to build up a great resume working for free while others have to take work unrelated to their careers in order to pay the rent.

I would argue that an intern would no doubt have a highly beneficial effect on Status Quo, injecting some vitality - and possibly even introduce a fifth chord - to their tired old output.

I have had several summer interns work for me over the years. One of them was a substantial benefit to the company; the others were not…

It wasn’t their fault. They did a fair day’s work. The problem is the amount one needs to know in order to be useful. In my business (reinsurance), one needs a lot of knowledge, much of which we take for granted. As a result, 3 months is barely long enough for the interns to get oriented.

BTW back in 1962 I was a summer intern and New York Life Insurance Co. I did a project (which I considered major at the time). As I was leaving, a senior person reviewed the results with me. I had failed to comply with certain company guidelines, so my project was worthless to them.

Ah, it reminds me of when I had just graduated, and a good friend of mine had taken an internship at Julliard.

“wow,” my parents said “that’s a great opportunity. He’s so smart to take these opportunities, etc.”

“It’s an unpaid internship, parents,” I replied. “He couldn’t do it if his parents didn’t pay his rent.” (note: something my parents would never in a million years consider doing)


Luckily, I’m in a field like engineering, which means paid internships.

Currently posting from my standard intern half-a-cubicle.

December: that’s a story I’ve heard as well (especially about high-school co-op positions) and it leads to a double whammy: not only does the business end up losing more productivity than it gains in wages and the intern end up losing a ton of possible wages, but the expectation within the industry that people will have been interns at some point means that this unprofitable and inefficient arrangement will become ubiquitous.

It comes back to the same problem: too many businesses aren’t willing to train. They want employees ready to work “out of the box” and aren’t willing to spend the time and money training employees. This isn’t suprising considering how transitory work has become in the age of headhunding and downsizing, and the best solution would be to encourage a little bit of loyalty on both sides. That would require some long term thinking, though, and that’s rare enough as it is.