Re: Why Internships Indeed

Subject: Re: Why Internships Indeed
From: John Gear <catalyst -at- PACIFIER -dot- COM>
Date: Wed, 26 Oct 1994 11:39:10 -0700

One other point about internships: If technical communicators are not
careful, we will join certain other professions in the race to the bottom
of the pay scale. I had an opportunity to observe this as an engineering
student dating a sociology/research major who then got her master's in
social work. In the E school, internships were called "co-ops"
(cooperative education) and paid at or very close to the starting wage
the person could expect to see when they started; not exploitive in any
sense. Because we were well-paid, managers paid attention to us, making
sure we got meaningful work. They had an interest in making the
experience work because paying us meant something to their budget.
Money is the language of management.

However three fields (traditionally female dominated in this century) are
known for unpaid "practicums": teaching, nursing, and social work.
There are, of course, exceptions, but most of the students in these
fields are expected to *pay* tuition for the semesters "course" which
consists of donating free labor to institutions in their field. The
institutions learn that people in this field don't need money (and will
even pay for the privilege of doing the job), the people working in the
field have to contend with being a mentor for someone (usually a
perfectly nice person) whose presence is downward pressure on the esteem
in which your profession is held.

Business and industry magazines often suggest that managers think of
colleges and certificate programs as pools for cheap labor. If we
contribute to that mentality we cut our own throats, in addition to
making it even less possible for people of lesser resources to enter the
profession (if your work experiences are expected to be gratis because
it's a resume builder, you have to already have money).

My feeling is that use of "interns" to do the "grunt work" may scratch
your current itch (staffing gap/overload) at the expense of your long
term interests and the interests of technical communicators in general.

John Gear, Catalyst Consulting Services
Vancouver, WA

P.S.: I think it's clear that there were also gender factors at work in
the case discussed above; engineering students were predominantly male,
social work, nursing, and education students overwhelmingly female.
However, while I don't know how to sort out the influence of gender vs.
the traditional uses of the unpaid or poorly paid student work force, I
do think we're better off imitating the practice in the higher paid
fields rather than the lower paid ones.

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