I was recently chastised for re-tweeting a posting by another architecture firm for an unpaid summer internship position. I know this is a very contentious issue and I’m sure that I will catch major hell for posting this, but….well, I don’t really care. It’s a conversation that needs to be had and I want to provide a place for anyone, for or against, to man up and post their pros and cons on the matter.
I’ll start with my own personal views:
I’m not really for or against unpaid internships. The reason for this is, I haven’t ever been in a position to TAKE an unpaid internship, so it’s not something that has impacted my professional journey in any way and is therefore a non-issue in my opinion.
Now, the opinion by many seems to be that it is an “unethical” practice and is somehow “demoralizing” to the profession. This, quite frankly I find a little silly, but I also think it is at the heart of the argument. Personally I disagree because I see an unpaid internship for what it is – a consensual business agreement between mature and knowledgeable parties and not an exchange of goods and/or services. You see, the firm offering the position is making a trade of what I feel is unequal value. The firm gets a inexperienced intern for a temporary period of time in which they will impart valuable knowledge and skills for which they get not much more than the interns time. To me this is more than a fair trade on the part of the intern. This is mostly an altruistic endeavor on the part of the firm. It’s called pouring in to the next generation and should be done by ALL OF US, no matter our profession. The more we build up the profession, the better off we’ll all be.
So, how does this “demoralize” the profession? How is this an “unethical” practice? In what way is anyone in this situation acting in an unprofessional manner? The intern gets valuable experience and the firm gets to help further the profession of architecture by training the intern. Seems a very ethical and even altruistic position to me.
Now, under the US Dept of Labor “guidelines” for unpaid internships, it states that an intern is entitled to compensation unless the following items apply, and in this case, and many others, I believe THEY DO. Feel free to disagree. 🙂
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 – obviously this applies to any internship, paid or unpaid. An employer provides education, similar (but better) to that at a university, in a practical environment.
The internship experience is for the benefit of the intern – for our purposes, this is a bit of a no brainer. Name one employer that would directly benefit from an inexperienced and untrained intern….THEY DON’T BECAUSE THEY HAVE TO TRAIN THEM. This takes time, sometimes more than a year to get a green intern to a point that they can be trusted with something more complicated than spelling their own name or answering the phone properly.
The intern does not displace regular employees, but works under close supervision of existing staff – this also is typically easily addressed. An intern, of this type, typically is brought on by the firm because they want to offer an opportunity to either a recent grad or a current student to offer practical, real world experience.
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 – I mostly addressed this in the item directly above – firms typically provide these unpaid positions as a way to offer training to the up and coming generation of architects. Any “benefit” they get is mostly altruistic. Yes, they get what some consider a “slave” to do their bidding, but they are still providing valuable education and experience which is the ultimate motive.
The intern is not necessarily entitled to a job at the conclusion of the internship – this can be handled and/or investigated on a case by case basis when they are advertised. Any unpaid positions that I personally have ever seen stipulate that a full time position is not guaranteed, and in some cases discouraged, once the internship is over. The rationale here is that the firm does not want to seem to be giving special treatment to those who have completed an internship.
The employer and the intern understand that the intern is not entitled to wages for the time spent in the internship – this for me is the real heart of the matter. An employer advertises a unpaid internship and gets a response from a willing participant. All particulars of the position are either outlined in the ad or discussed further with the applicant during an interview. The applicant does not have to accept OR EVEN APPLY for the position. It is a completely voluntary agreement between two consenting parties. If no one were to take the position, the advertising firm would eventually take down the ad and move on to business as usual.
So I certainly want to hear from anyone and EVERYONE. If you agree, great! Tell my WHY. If you disagree, great! Tell me WHY! This is an important discussion to have for our profession. I’m sure we’re not going to change a whole lot of minds, but we can come together, offer dissenting opinions, have a discussion and learn an alternate point of view. I will moderate comments, so lets try to keep it professional if not always friendly. 😉 Passion and conviction are MORE THAN WELCOME.