Abolish the Intern: Join The Apprenticeship Movement

by Ruth D Schwartz

Imagine a world where young people are escorted, protected, and paid as they find their place, their work, and their lives. This is the difference between a system based on temporary, exploitative internships and a system based on long-term development of a mentor, apprentice, and protege.

The National Association of Colleges and Employers found that 55 percent of the class of 2012 had an internship during their time in college. Almost half of those – 47 percent – were unpaid. A third of internships at for-profit companies were unpaid.

It was during my own college internship, fetching coffee and stealing traffic reports from competing radio stations for KGO Radio in San Francisco, that I saw the transparent nature of internships. I’m not the only one to call internships indentured servitude. Nor am I the only intern who thought that the opportunities available in an internship were weak and barely met the requirements of an internship at all.

Truth be told, my experience enlightened me to the fact that I would NEVER work for KGO or any company like it.

It wasn’t long ago that this article hit The Washington Post:

“Depending on how you look at it, this is either massive exploitation of young people by powerful corporations which worsens inequality, or a valuable opportunity for on-the-job training at lower cost than a degree or certificate at a college or university. Whatever your moral leanings, a judge on Tuesday (June 2013) confirmed what intern advocates have been alleging for years: a lot of these programs are illegal.”

Let’s define the terms:

Internship. An internship is a method of on-the-job training for professional careers and is similar in some ways to apprenticeships for trade and vocational jobs. But the lack of standardization and oversight leaves the term open to broad interpretation. Interns may be college or university students, high school students, or post-graduate adults. These positions may be paid or unpaid and are usually temporary.

Depending on how you look at it, this is either massive exploitation of young people by powerful corporations which worsens inequality, or a valuable opportunity for on-the-job training at lower cost than a degree or certificate at a college or university.

A 2010 fact sheet put out by the Department of Labor’s Wage and Hour Division:

which enforces internship laws, sets up six criteria to determine if an internship is legal or not:

  1. The internship, even though it includes actual operation of the facilities of the employer, is similar to training which would be given in an educational environment;
  2. The internship experience is for the benefit of the intern;
  3. The intern does not displace regular employees, but works under close supervision of existing staff;
  4. 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;
  5. The intern is not necessarily entitled to a job at the conclusion of the internship; and
  6. The employer and the intern understand that the intern is not entitled to wages for the time spent in the internship.

Kevin Carey, director of the Education Policy program at the New America Foundation, says when students work at unpaid internships, they’re receiving a negative wage:

“It’s worse than working for free. They’re actually paying to work,” he says.

Derek Thompson in the Atlantic Monthly put it masterfully:

“An apprentice would be taken into the master’s household with food and shelter provided. That doesn’t happen with unpaid internships. Only kids that have someone else to rely on for food and housing can take advantage of the opportunities provided.”

Let’s define Apprenticeship.

“Apprenticeship is a system of training a new generation of practitioners of a trade or profession with on-the-job training and often some accompanying study (classroom work and reading). Apprentices or protégés build their careers from apprenticeships. Most of their training is done while working for an employer who helps the apprentices learn their trade or profession, in exchange for their continued labor for an agreed period after they have achieved measurable competencies. Apprenticeships typically last 3 to 6 years. People who successfully complete an apprenticeship reach the journeyman level of competence.”

According to theWA State Department of Labor and Industry, these are some of the requisites of apprenticeship:

  • There is a schedule of work processes in which an apprentice is to receive training and experience on the job;
  • The program includes organized instruction designed to provide apprentices with knowledge and technical subjects related to their trade;
  • There is a progressively increasing schedule of wages;
  • Proper supervision of on-the-job training with adequate facilities to train apprentices is ensured;
  • The apprentice’s progress, both in job performance and related instruction, is evaluated periodically and appropriate records are maintained;
  • There is employee-employer cooperation;
  • Successful completions are recognized.

I’m jumping into this conversation because of how strongly I believe that whether professional, manufacturing, trades, services, or management, apprenticeship (not internship) offers a viable methodology to bring young people purposefully and quickly into the workplace without worrying if the educational system will provide for the needs of business or that students must create debt to learn.

I say, Abolish the Intern. Lift up the Apprentice. Developing apprenticeship programs in every industry would solve innumerable problems while not bankrupting – morally or financially – well-meaning workers in the process.

Ready to create your talent pipeline?

Unlock Your Genius and Simplify Your Life.

Start with a Leadership Genius Quick Start – Focus Session.