Paid vs. unpaid internships

Subject: Paid vs. unpaid internships
From: John Gear <catalyst -at- PACIFIER -dot- COM>
Date: Sun, 3 Dec 1995 21:38:00 PST

someone wrote:

> <snip>
> If an internship is required for graduation, and it should be, there is no
> requirement the employer pays the student. The student is there part-time
> for a limited length of time to get experience, to see the real world (as
> it were), to see how actual procedures vary/do not vary from what is being
> tought in ivory towers.
> <snip>

Bunk. If we want technical communications to be viewed as a profession than
we should think of it that way ourselves and refuse to cooperate with this scam.

I always go back to my university days when I, as an engineering student,
was offered a wide array of paid interships (co-op experiences as they were
called). The idea that I would *pay* tuition for the privilege of working
for nothing was (and is) never entertained. And any suggestion that I was
more valuable to a firm than a tech writing intern is incorrect--any bright
tech writing intern had a better grasp of his or her tools than I did of
mine and could produce salable work much faster than I did.

Yet, in my wife's field, unpaid internships are the norm; there are
exceptions but they are just that. In fact, a little digging shows that it
is only in three traditionally female-dominated fields are unpaid
internships the norm: teaching ("student teaching"), nursing, and social
work. This says more about the way we value work than it does about the
work. In the U.S., employers tend to reduce the salary scales when women
dominate the field.

IMO, we, if we want to make a profession out of our trade, we must stop
cooperating in this enterprise. Unpaid internships, while no doubt of some
value to those who get them, serve mainly to depress the salary scale for
professionals and weed out deserving students who cannot afford to pay for
the privilege of making money for some company or other. And it sends the
message to the corporations "hiring" these interns that this is *not*
anything worth paying too much for.

I wonder also about the legal justification for unpaid internships.
Employers who would otherwise be required to pay at least minimum wage get
to call it "internship" and pay nothing if there's a school in the picture
somewhere . . . why is that?

As for the people who say there would be no internships in tech comm if
companies had to pay I say fine. There is a given amount of work in tech
comm, some discretionary, some not. Any work that can be skipped if the
company had to pay for it should not be done. And if it needs to be done
then the company will pay to have it done. I would rather reduce people's
opportunities to work for nothing than I would to reduce the opportunities
to earn a living wage, which is the result of the current "internship" scam.
John Gear (catalyst -at- pacifier -dot- com)

The Bill of Rights--The Original Contract with America
Accept no substitutes. Beware of imitations. Insist on the genuine articles.

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