Saturday, July 30, 2011

Intern Nation by Ross Perlin

Intern Nation: How to Earn Nothing and Learn Little in the Brave New EconomyIn Intern Nation, Ross Perlin tracks the development of the internship and its implications for labor, especially when unpaid interns replace paid workers, usually engaged in administrative tasks. Perlin begins his discussion by describing the internships offered by Disney--and finds them sadly lacking, if not exploitative, though a typical example of how fall the internship has fallen. He describes the development of the internship, possibly from early guild apprenticeships into their current modern form. Perlin examines the internship labor market in the United States, what makes a quality internship, and some of the characteristics of a demeaning and time-wasting work experience, and the potential rise, and resistance, to the spread of American style internships in the rest of the world.

Perlin also argues that without an internship it is becoming increasingly difficult to pursue the career that a person has gone to college for, such as in journalism, fashion and design, and if you can't work for free for a long period. Parents and loans are increasingly subsidizing students to take on unpaid internships and the cost can be high, considering that some internships can last for a year, could be undertaken in series and offered in places, such as Washington DC, where the cost of living is quite high. And, as others have asked, just who can afford these internships and pay for their children while engaged in these experiences? If it comes down to cost, what about the quality of the interns, if they are not selected based on merit? What does it mean for workplace diversity? And finally, is a college student shut out of their chosen career because they cannot afford to work for free for a long period of time? Perlin's answers are that if internships continues on the path they are on, qualified candidates will be shut out and homogeneity will be a significant issue in the culture and media industries which are currently permeated by free and serial internships.

Perlin sees the internship as part of the increase on the reliance of contingent labor by employers, which others might argue is part of the freedom seeking "free agent nation", and identifies a European term, precarity, to show that internships, and other contingent labor, devalue work and extinguish hope in career security, or the freedom to enter and pursue a career based on the education the person has attained. Internships affect a significant proportion of the population that are pursuing a college education and who believe that a college education will allow them to further their career plans--though many of the signs are showing, as Perlin argues, that without an internship, or three, the value of a college education is diminished, unless the student is in a legally protected profession, from pursuing a white collar career.

There are some minor editing and proofreading issues in the book, but they do not diminish the importance of the argument. Personally, I feel this is an important landmark book on the study of internships.


From the Advisory: Training and Employment Guidance Letter NO. 12-09
The U.S. Department of Labor’s Wage and Hour Division (WHD) has developed the six factors below to evaluate whether a worker is a trainee or an employee for purposes of the FLSA:

1. The training, even though it includes actual operation of the facilities of the employer, is similar to what would be given in a vocational school or academic
educational instruction;
2. The training is for the benefit of the trainees;
3. The trainees do not displace regular employees, but work under their close observation;
4. The employer that provides the training derives no immediate advantage from the activities of the trainees, and on occasion the employer’s operations may actually be impeded;
5. The trainees are not necessarily entitled to a job at the conclusion of the training period; and
6. The employer and the trainees understand that the trainees are not entitled to wages for the time spent in training.

Further Reading

Employment Law Rights of Student Interns (Abstract).
Intern Nation Author Ross Perlin: Interns Need A Bill Of Rights. The Gothamist
Trickle down unemployment and corporate sleight of hand by James Marshall Reilly, about how  low pay or no pay internships are replacing entry-level employment.
Unpaid Intern, Legal or Not. NYT April 2, 2010

Other Coverage:

Book challenges rise of the Intern Nation. Careers on (from Associated Press). April 20, 2011.
Canada Turning Into Intern Nation. National Post. June 11, 2011.
Intern Nation. Inside Higher Ed. April 15, 2011.
"Intern Nation": Are we exploiting a generation of workers?. May 29, 2011.
Intern Nation: Overdue And Under-Delivered. Business Insider. May 4, 2011. (Not a favorable review of the book, but left me wondering if the review's author had read more than the first chapter.)
Intern Nation- Review. The Guardian. May 7, 2011. (Includes a story about an auction of  prestigious internships at a political event in the UK.)
Intern Nation- Review. The Observer. May 15, 2011.
Intern Nation - Review. The Telegraph (UK). June 5, 2011.
Intern Nation: How to Earn Nothing and Learn Little in the Brave New Economy

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