Friday, September 9, 2011

Ending Internment

Real Internment.

I wrote yesterday about the problems of unpaid internships, but I didn't elaborate on what possible solutions there are to rectifying this gap in labor and wages. Now I believe there are multiple solutions so I will address them from the top down.

The first thought is often used and generally obvious. Create a legal definition and framework for an intern. Through a government regulation of an industry or profession it is possible to limit the economic impacts of unpaid interns. Most probably there would be a multi-faceted and nuanced approach to intern regulations. Interns would, much like student workers in the Skidmore dining hall, have specifically delineated duties that could not overlap with the work of paid labor. There may also be a maximal hour requirement, forcing interns to work say ten hours a week, and exceeding that limit would require pay of some sort. Alternately it is also possible to mandate a minimum wage for all interns except in special circumstances like non-profit firms.

Secondly, using accredited universities to manage internships. It is already in practice on a limited basis around the country. Using the university system in conjunction with regulation, or even on its own, has several benefits. The first is that internships could be completed for credit, making it part of obtaining a degree in a field. The credits could effectively amount to compensation. The second benefit is that the university system already is regulated; there would be little need for massive change in the system as is. Third, banks are willing to loan out money and scholarships or grants exist for endeavors such as higher education, and using the universities gives lower economic classes at least the opportunity to enter industries and make necessary connections for getting a job in the real world.

Third, there could be a system among firms of logging the experience and 'banking' it within the industry. I'm speaking of an apprenticeship type approach. Using the industry organizations to regulate standards and benefits for interns could also work. Using, for example, the Bar Association to manage standard codes for interns across all law firms would make the work more quantifiable. Think, if there was a 'standard' for what kinds of experience an intern is supposed to walk away with, then those skills can be reapplied across all jobs with the same needs. As is, internships can vary greatly in their quality and depth. Some of my friends have answered phones for months while others learned new skills and dealt directly with clients.

Fourth, we can all start making the collective decision to refuse internships and protest the unfair practice of using labor without pay or standards. Of course, that is a personal decision that many people have to make together and there currently is little political will to really accomplish that. Besides, as I said yesterday, internships can be a great thing so protesting them outright, even just unpaid internships would be a difficult strategy. Specifically I find myself thinking about the prospect of marching capitol hill with a bunch of recently graduated individuals, “No more unpaid internships except for particular cases!” is a bit of a mouthful to shout—nothing catchy about it.

So there exist some ideas of how to fix the damaged system, not irreparable just broken. The increasing prevalence of unpaid (and paid) internships as a way to start a career means that there is a need to critically look at practices and see what can be done to fix the issue. It is something of the dry nature of economics and politics that must be addressed to ensure the prosperity of our country into the future.